No One Should Travel Alone

 In The Tide

“Lonely? You’re not alone. America’s young people are suffering from a lack of meaningful connection”

At Springtide, we believe no young person should have to navigate life’s important questions alone.

Yet alone is how many young people experience themselves. Alone is how they feel.

The data confirms that many of America’s young people are lonely, isolated, and starved for community even as they drown in a sea of connections. A recent study on loneliness notes that Gen Z, those born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s, are not only the most isolated generation in America today, they are among the loneliest that has ever been tracked.

“Of all age groups, Generation Z—anyone ranging in age from 18 to 22—seems to be particularly impacted,” reports the NBC News webpage Link of study findings by Cigna. “According to the study, Gen Z is significantly more likely than any other age group to say that they experience feelings that are associated with loneliness; 68 percent said they feel like ‘no one really knows them well.’ Cigna gave Gen Z a ‘loneliness’ score of 48.3 out of 80. This is in contrast to the so-called Greatest Generation—people over 72—which has the lowest loneliness score of 38.6 (also out of 80).”

This sense of isolation comes with serious health and well-being consequences that impact our entire society. Advisory Board, which shares health care best practices with industry, reports:

Decades of research substantiate the devastating effects of social isolation. Loneliness is equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and increases the risk of death by 26–45%, which is on par with risk factors such as high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of exercise.” A recent article in America Magazine reports: “In an especially alarming trend, the incidence of at least one major depressive episode per year among adolescents has risen by almost two-thirds over the past decade to reach 13.3 percent. Because many who experience mental health difficulties as adults first show symptoms during this developmental period, the World Health Organization lists mental health in adolescence as a top global health priority.

Advisory Board

Amidst this paradox of connection and isolation, young people are longing for real, authentic, meaningful relationships but feel like they are on their own as they work to realize a sense of personal identity, meaning, and purpose. They continue to desire meaningful relationships with peers and adults, and wish to gather with others to celebrate common beliefs.

Those instincts for connection—those longings for belonging—are well supported by science. A summary of the report from Cigna states

  • People who engage in frequent meaningful in-person interactions have much lower loneliness scores and report better health than those who rarely interact with others face-to-face.
  • Getting the right balance of sleep, work, socializing with friends, family and “me time” is connected to lower loneliness scores. However, balance is critical, as those who get too little or too much of these activities have higher loneliness scores.

Frustratingly, while young people feel ever more isolated, there is also an abundance of well-meaning adults, organizations and institutions longing for nothing more than to connect with young people, to form lasting, meaningful relationships and help them figure out what is most important in their lives.

As our institutions have crumbled, our responses have faltered. The traditional tools of community building and placemaking are proving ineffective, and the result is that young people are growing up disconnected from each other, social and religious institutions, and the world around them.

Guided by cutting-edge research and social science life-course theory, we know that fostering conversations with a young person at age 14 leads to building pathways and patterns that result in deeper, more meaningful conversations throughout those teen and young adult years, and establishes a framework for development that results in a more engaged, connected and meaningful life.

At Springtide Research Institute, we believe no young person should have to navigate life’s important questions alone. And while our goal is to provide impactful, actionable data—both quantitative and qualitative—about the religious longings of young people; and as we report on individuals and organizations that are making a difference in those lives by providing communities and connections of support, we recognize that an adequate response will neither begin nor end with us.

It will begin and end with you.

Connect or reconnect with the young people in your life today. Listen well to their stories, accompany them on their pilgrimage through adolescence and into adulthood.

Gandhi encourages us, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Let us likewise encourage one another: Be the presence a young person might just need as he or she navigates life’s most important questions, no longer alone, but in the company of fellow pilgrims and friends.

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