As reported by the Pew Research Center, smartphones are in the hands of nearly every teen in the United States; 95% of teens report they have a smartphone or access to one. Access encourages use and as a result, 45% of teens say they are online on a near-constant basis. Young people, like the adults around them, are connected to each other and to the world like never before.

And yet, for all this supposed connectivity, we are also lonely. A recent survey by health service company Cigna surveyed more than 20,000 U.S. adults ages 18 years and older and found that:

  • Nearly half of Americans report sometimes or always feeling alone (46 percent) or left out (47 percent).
  • One in four Americans (27 percent) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
  • Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43 percent) and that they are isolated from others (43 percent).
  • One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20 percent) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18 percent).

Of the greatest interest to Digital Parents, the survey reported that Generation Z—those ages 18 to 22—were the loneliest group. So if teens are always online, making digital connections, one has to ask, how big of a role does social media play on these high loneliness figures?

The answer, according to mental health experts, depends on how your teen uses social media. Using it to keep in touch with friends and make new connections is healthy but if your teen is spending hours upon hours every day on social media and using it as a substitute for real, especially in-person connections, they may be dealing with feelings of loneliness and inadequacy.

It’s important that young people make time to be off-line and experience others without staring at a screen. They need validation other than follows and likes.

It’s also important to remind them that curated social media posts are not real life, their own or others. Your teen should not be striving for an unattainable perfection in terms of how they present themselves and they should not fall victim to the impression that everyone else has a better life, is smarter, funnier, more interesting, has more friends, and so on. Easier said than done, right?

I bet every adult reading this article has reminded themselves of this truth more than once! Here’s the thing though, this kind of thought process is a trap for those with low self-esteem. Teenage age years are riddled with a preponderance of low self-esteem and can result in habits that can form a point-of view, a way of seeing the world, that is hard to shake as a young adult – hence the staggering figures of loneliness for Generation Z.

So Digital Parents, now is the time to teach your teen not to seek others’ approval, but to look inward and build their sense of self-worth. Encourage them to disconnect – even if it’s for just one hour a day to begin with – and engage with the real (physical) world.

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