In this post I will be discussing some of the findings from TalkTalk’s 2019 report on ‘Teenage Loneliness and Technology.’
What does the report cover?
The report covers loneliness in young people and their parents. It examines causes of loneliness, the impact of technology, how loneliness is perceived and where young people find support when they feel this way.
Where did the report’s findings come from?
TalkTalk surveyed 2,005 13-16-year-old teenagers in the UK and 2,005 parents of those same young people between 26/3/19 and 4/4/19. Additionally, they worked with Dr Rebecca Nowland from the University of Lancashire and an online safety organisation called Internet Matters. CEO of TalkTalk, Tristia Harrison (2019) explains Dr Nowland’s role, “to analyze the data and draw conclusions that we hope will help families navigate the digital world they inhabit”(p.2).
Causes of loneliness
“The top four causes of loneliness according to young people are issues relating to money, trust, friendships and shyness.” (Talk Talk, 2019, p.5) This makes sense as having no one to trust is isolating, if you don’t have strong friendships you may feel you have no one to turn to, if you’re shy then communicating your feelings and forming new relationships can be difficult, and if you can’t afford to take part in the same activities and events as your friends or share their kinds of lifestyles, this would also contribute to feelings of loneliness and maybe even rejection.
Additionally, Talk Talk (2019) go on to explain that their findings, “correspond with ONS loneliness research, which found that children living in households in relative poverty were twice as likely to report feeling lonely, and that low happiness with relationships with friends was one of the most significant contributing factors to children’s loneliness” (p.5).
Who do young people turn to?
As you may have expected, parents are the number one choice for the young people surveyed to turn to, however this still only accounts for 46% of the group. Friends come in at 26%, siblings at 14% and so on. The most startling figure however, is that 31% of the teenagers surveyed told no one about their loneliness (Talk Talk, 2019, p.7).
Is this because these young people don’t have strong relationships with their family and friends? Do they feel as if they have no one they can trust? Or is there something else to these findings? Dr Rebecca Nowland (2019) suggests, “A likely reason for young people choosing not to tell anyone when they feel lonely is that they believe that there is a stigma about loneliness “(p.7).
Is there a stigma associated with loneliness?
“The BBC Loneliness Experiment in 2018 showed that although lonely people may think that others see their loneliness as a character flaw, other people do not attach negative characteristics to people they think are lonely. This indicates that other people are kinder and more understanding about loneliness than the lonely person is about themselves” (Dr Rebecca Nowland, 2019, p.7).
Assuming others will have negative opinions about us is a common trait, particularly if we are suffering from feelings such as loneliness, depression and anxiety. There’s this fear that others will not understand or accept what we are going through, despite many of us experiencing these emotions. This is partly because of those who do not treat others with the kindness they deserve, but mostly because of our own lack of self-esteem or self-worth.
Dr Nowland (2019) advises, “Explaining that we feel lonely to someone else, helps us to connect with them; young people need to understand that other people will not think less of them if they tell them that they feel lonely” (p.7). This is a good point, as loneliness is a common feeling, this is something that people can bond over and help each other to overcome.
Loneliness and technology
Interestingly, the number of young people that felt ‘the internet and social media made them feel unhappy about themselves’ was less than half the percentage of parents that felt that ‘social media and the internet was harming their child’s mental health. ’This may be due to the impact being online had for the surveyed parents themselves, with 36% of them saying it was ‘harming their well-being.’ In fact, overall “parents felt lonelier than their teenage children – with implications on how they advise and talk to their children on the issue.” (Talk Talk, 2019, p.9-10).
It is also possible, that the percentage gap in parents’ and young peoples’ views about the internet, is due to the media latching on to the negative impacts of technology, often focusing on issues such as safeguarding and online bullying. These continuous criticisms of the internet can cause the general public to forget about its benefits.
Funnily enough, “more than half (51%) of young people said that during times when they have felt lonely, technology has made them feel less lonely.” The majority shared that their experiences with technology have only been positive, “In addition, two thirds (64%) of young people said that they have never experienced a time when using technology has had a negative effect on them.” (Talk Talk, 2019, p.12-13)
The report goes on to list the ‘Top 5 reasons why technology can make teenagers feel more connected.’
- “Finding support networks for people that might be facing similar challenges
- Providing opportunities to boost one’s confidence
- Finding people with niche common hobbies
- Finding peer groups for teenagers in minority groups
- Making them feel accepted by their peers” (Talk Talk, 2019, p.14)
Opportunities and support
it is important for young people to have opportunities to access the internet safely and with the right support network. There are many positive experiences to be found from using technology, including connecting with others. Young people may feel like their peers don’t really understand them, but through the use of technology they’ll find that they are not alone. I would highly recommend to schools using solutions such as GoBubble (https://www.bubble.school/) to enable pupils to have opportunities to connect with others all around the world, in a safe and positive environment.
As well as schools, parents need to support their children to use technology in the right way so they can benefit from the experience. Young people also know that if technology does have a negative impact on them, they have someone to turn to. Interestingly, “most parents (70%) said that they were worried about how much time their child spends online and how regularly they use technology. Yet 65% said they did not limit the time their child spends online and using technology” (Talk Talk, 2019, p.9). This suggests to me that parents need some advice and guidance around topics such as screen time, e-safety and so much more. If you are a parent or carer looking for advice on these kinds of topics, or you are concerned that technology may be negatively impacting on your child’s mental health, have a look at the advice for parents and carers on the UK Safer Internet Centre: https://www.saferinternet.org.uk/advice-centre/parents-and-carers
If you are feeling lonely or isolated, or you are worried about someone else experiencing these feelings, you may find the links below for support and advice helpful.
Support and advice on loneliness
To read the full 2019 ‘Teenage Loneliness and Technology’ from Talk Talk, head here: https://www.internetmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TalkTalk-Teenage-Loneliness-Technology-Report_FINAL-compressed.pdf
Here are some other useful links for support and advice:
Mind- ‘How to Cope with Loneliness’: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/loneliness/#.XO0K34hKhPY
ITV This Morning- ‘Loneliness Helplines’:https://www.itv.com/thismorning/loneliness-helplines
Children and young people:
Action for Children- ‘Tips for young people’: https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/how-to-help/support-our-campaigns/jo-cox-commission-on-loneliness/tips-for-young-people/
Childline- ‘Loneliness and Isolation’: https://www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/your-feelings/feelings-emotions/loneliness-isolation/
Age UK- ‘Caring for Someone who is lonely’: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/information-advice/health-wellbeing/loneliness/caring-for-someone-whos-lonely/
Talk Talk, (2019), ‘Teenage Loneliness and Technology,’ pages 2-14 [online] Internet Maters. Available at: https://www.internetmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TalkTalk-Teenage-Loneliness-Technology-Report_FINAL-compressed.pdf