The Once and Future Crisis of Loneliness in Young People

 In Research

Loneliness and social isolation among young people at threatening levels before COVID-19 

I know that it may seem too early to be talking about an emerging threat when many of us, myself included, are hunkered down with stay-at-home orders due to Covid-19. The health consequences of coronavirus are troubling and heartbreaking. 

But there is something else developing below the surface. As we, rightfully, adhere to social distancing, there is an added reason to be concerned about a social epidemic of isolation and loneliness. 

In the months before the emergence of Covid-19, Springtide Research Institute conducted research that revealed troubling trends of social isolation and loneliness among young people (ages 13-25). In fact, those numbers were at an all-time high even before Americans retreated from social gatherings. 

Our research found that the traditional efforts many faith leaders have relied upon to engage young people were having no impact on stopping the trends of increased loneliness. Our research in Belonging: Reconnecting America’s Loneliest Generation revealed that attendance at religious events and gatherings including worship, youth group, campus ministries, and other similar events, had ZERO EFFECT in terms of reversing the growing trend of loneliness, isolation, and stress.

We were stunned to find out what really made a difference in the lives of young people. 

Put simply, YOU are the antidote. Over and over, young people revealed the dramatic impact that trusted adults had in their lives. They articulated, through their stories in interviews and in responses to our survey, how key relationships with adults helped them feel Noticed, Named, Known, and, ultimately, like they belonged. 

Unfortunately, nearly 1/3 of all young people have one or fewer trusted adults in their lives, including even their parents. Our research suggests that we should be striving to connect young people to as many as 5 adults in order to truly reduce the negative health and spiritual consequences of loneliness and isolation.

To put it very directly, we’ve got work to do.   

As we all deal with the impacts of Covid-19, it’s crucial at this moment that YOU are the trusted adult for the young people in your life. Call them, check on them, and connect with them. More than anything, let them know you’re thinking of them and they can talk to you.

Josh Packard, PhD, is the executive director of Springtide Research Institute and coauthor of  Belonging: Reconnecting America’s Loneliest Generationavailable now.

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Blog post photo credit: Warren Wong

How do we help young people find a place to belong—where they are noticed, named, and known?

Get the new national research report examining the landscape of loneliness specific to 13-to-25-year-olds. Belonging: Reconnecting America’s Loneliest Generation

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