You might think loneliness is an issue that only affects the elderly, but children are very much at risk too.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics found 11 per cent of children aged 10 to 15 years old said they “often” feel lonely. This was more common among younger children, aged 10 to 12, than those aged 13 to 15 years old.
The report found 27.5 per cent of children who received free school meals said they were “often” lonely, compared with 5.5 per cent of those who did not. And kids who lived in cities were more likely to feel lonely compared to those living in towns and rural areas.
As a parent, it can be concerning to hear your child might be experiencing loneliness. So what are the telltale signs to be aware of – and what should you do next?
“Every child needs time on their own now and again – even those who are very social,” said Eleanor Briggs, head of policy and research at Action for Children. “But sometimes a young person will feel some sadness about being alone.”
If a child is lonely, they may be unlikely to talk about their friends. Generally they might also seem quiet, withdrawn or just sad. Briggs said it’s possible that they’ll spend a lot of time alone, never go out with friends, or lose their appetite.
Children and teens might feel particularly lonely during difficult changes. For example, after a bereavement or family breakdown, when they move schools, or because of relationships or friendships ending, according to Jo Hardy, head of parent services at charity YoungMinds.
Even kids who live much of their life on social media and are extremely well-connected might feel lonely – especially if they’re being bullied online or can’t relate to the seemingly Insta-perfect lives of their peers.
“Feeling lonely isn’t itself a mental health problem, but it can have a negative impact on mental health,” said Hardy. “Young people who are struggling with their mental health also often feel isolated or alone.”
What To Do If You Think Your Child Is Lonely
It’s important to talk to them about how they’re feeling. “It can be helpful to do this on a regular basis, while doing an activity you both enjoy – like baking, playing a game or kicking a football around,” advised Hardy.
Keep the conversation light, Briggs suggested – show an interest in their friends and ask how they feel about them. “Let them know it’s okay to be alone sometimes.”
It might also be helpful to look at how social media affects their mood, and talk to them about how they believe it impacts them. “If something is making them feel more lonely and left out, could they use it less and focus on sites that make them feel more positive?” Briggs suggested.
“Also check to see if there are groups or activities near you that your child may be interested in. If you are worried, speak to a teacher or other member of staff at your child’s school – they can look out for signs too once they’re aware.”
If you’re worried about your child’s behaviour or mental health and don’t know what to do, the YoungMinds parents helpline can offer support and advice. Action for Children’s website buildsoundminds.org.uk has lots of useful information, too.