Kindness is connection: An antidote to loneliness in teens

Our teens are feeling lonelier than ever due to the pandemic. Simple acts of kindness could go a long way to boosting the mood of the giver and the recipient.

By Monika Roots, MD

December 29, 2021

Kindness

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.  Literature 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.

There are biological reasons why teens are especially at risk for loneliness. The part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex is still developing in teens. The prefrontal cortex helps guide our actions and regulates our emotions. This part of the brain still in development means that teens feel the negative emotional impact of loneliness more intensely than adults, compounded by the fact that as children, they were rarely alone. Therefore, they do not have coping skills for feelings of loneliness and are not comfortable with solitude. But, this can actually be a good thing. 

During teenage years, we are forming our identities based on interactions with our peers. For many, the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic made this process difficult if not impossible. And finally, though social media can help teens connect, it also raises feelings of inadequacy. You can feel alone even with social contact. Some social media posts can make a teen feel like their regular day can never match up to others. In addition, there is a risk of the posts creating a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out) or FOBLO (Fear of being left out), which can exacerbate feelings of loneliness.

What is the 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. 

Based on research studies, these people feel stronger and more energetic, less depressed and calmer. People who volunteer and engage in acts of kindness 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.

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 in that moment.

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