Kindness is connection: An antidote to loneliness in teens
We all get a little lonely sometimes… and this can be especially true for teens. From living through a pandemic to consuming highlight reels of everyone else’s lives on social media, being a teenager in today’s society can be really isolating.
If you’ve noticed that your teen has been feeling down or is struggling with loneliness, there are small steps you can take to help them feel more connected to the people and the world around them. Helping your teen understand and practice kindness towards others and themselves is a great way to help them feel less alone in it all.
Why are teens lonely?
During teenage years, we are forming our identities based on interactions with our peers. And for many, the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic made this process difficult if not impossible.
Then there’s social media. Yes, it can help many teens connect, but scrolling through highly curated content can also raise feelings of inadequacy (for adults too!). Some social media posts can make a teen feel like their regular day can never match up to others. Posts can create a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) or FOBLO fear of being left out), which can exacerbate these feelings of loneliness.
There are also biological reasons why teens are especially at risk for loneliness. The part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex - the part that helps guide our actions and regulates our emotions - is still developing. And this is compounded by the fact that as children, they were rarely alone. They simply don’t have coping skills for feelings of loneliness and are not comfortable with solitude.
How can kindness lessen loneliness in teens?
Have you ever noticed that when you help out a friend that you feel a sense of joy? Well, there is a reason for that. Researchers have found that kindness is contagious and that if you are kind to someone, they are more likely to perform an act of kindness for someone else. When we perform an act of kindness, a hormone called oxytocin is released which promotes a feeling of well-being, relationship and connection with another.
Kindness has never been more important in this time when we, and our teens, have never felt lonelier. Research shows that loneliness can be more lethal than smoking six packs of cigarettes a day. Social isolation has been a symptom of the pandemic for many of us, and loneliness has especially been an issue for teens because of the social separation caused by attending school from home rather than in person with their friends.
So what is one powerful antidote? Acts of kindness! Doing something for another person overcomes loneliness by releasing oxytocin, which creates a feeling of belonging and connection to another human being. But, it also has many other benefits. The release of oxytocin has been linked to lower blood pressure, improved heart health, increase in self-esteem, optimism and helps with anxiety.
Doing small acts of kindness can help people feel stronger and more energetic, less depressed and calmer. People who volunteer and give back have been found to live longer and more serotonin is produced, which is the well-being chemical produced by the brain. Sounds pretty good, right? Based on studies where social campaigns for acts of kindness in schools, there was an average increase and grades and decrease in bullying.
Ways to bring more kindness into your lives
It’s not alway easy to convince a teen to do something that you think is a good idea, but by simplifying modeling kindness and talking about how small acts of service have made you feel less alone, you’re letting your child know about the importance of giving back. If they seem receptive, try some of these tips to bring more kindness, and less loneliness, into their lives.
- Take on a family project to improve your community. Pick up trash at the local park, sign up for a walk-a-thon, or build a tiny “free library” box in your yard with books for everyone to read. Getting behind a good cause together will help you to connect, create a larger conversation about shared values, and give you all that feel-good feeling (hello oxytocin!).
- Turn bad days around. If you notice your teen is having a bad day, ask for their help in doing something thoughtful for someone else. Deliver cookies to a friend or go through your closets and donate the things you haven’t worn in a while.
- Tap into your teen’s interests. Is your teen an animal lover? Consider fostering a pet for the summer. Are they all about social media? Suggest they reach out to a local non-profit and offer their pro bono consulting services.
- Give the gift of generosity. Instead of collecting presents, celebrate a family member’s birthday by asking people to give donations to a charity of your choice. From animal welfare to environmental causes, take time to look at different causes that you all care about and learn more about their impact. You can also ask about volunteer opportunities to feel more connected to the mission.
- Model it. Kind gestures don’t have to be big or dramatic. Even if you get an eye roll or a little attitude, show your teen how good it feels to be on the receiving end of kindness. Write them a note, compliment their new outfit, or tell them about how you’re showing up for a loved one who is having a hard time. Let everyone in the household know that the goal is to have a culture of kindness within the home.
- Create a kindness challenge. Encourage each member of the family to do one small thing for someone else throughout the day and then ask everyone to share at the dinner table. Get curious about how this gesture made them feel and brainstorm ways you can show up for others as a group.
- Be open and available. Being a teen can be really difficult and confusing. Let your teen know that you’re always there for them anytime they are struggling. Try your best to actively listen when they talk to you and show an interest in what is going on in their lives, without trying to fix or give advice at every turn.
So when you see your child, teen, loved one or even yourself having a tough day, try to engage in an act of kindness for someone else. It may just deliver the mood boost that they — or you — need at that moment.