young adult loneliness

Today’s Young Adults Are the Loneliest Generation: Here’s Why

Watching children play on a playground reminds us all how easy it used to be to make friends. It was as simple as going up to someone about your size on the swing set and asking them if they wanted to play. In elementary and middle school, you were often friends with classmates or peers who participated in the same clubs as activities as you. Proximity was the key to creating relationships. As we grow older, the way that we create friendships begins to change. Our world is bigger, and proximity is no longer the driving force behind finding a friend. We want to create relationships with people who share interests, but also with people who push us to be the best version of ourselves. People who share similar core values, and who can also show us a different perspective in life. And because we start to crave deeper, and more meaningful relationships as we grow older, it can start to be challenging to find people who fit that criteria. How can we create new friendships as adults and why is that so difficult?

In a recent poll by YouGov, they were surprised to find that young adults surpassed Generation X and Baby Boomers as the loneliest generation. They found that 30% of young adults say they always or often feel lonely and don’t have any “best friends.” While young adulthood is typically seen as a social period of one’s life where people develop meaningful relationships with a variety of people, young adults today are taking longer to commit in relationships and spending less time getting to know new people. Social media may play a role in contributing to high levels of loneliness among their generation.  

The Rise of Depersonalized Socializing

Excessive social media use may be one of the reasons young adults are finding it harder to make friends. The most common reason: shyness (53%). Another 27 percent of those who find it difficult to make friends say that they “don’t feel like they need friends.” A similar number (26%) say they don’t have any hobbies or interests that can facilitate friendships. As social media has become a tool to widen social circles and maintain friendships, perceived social isolation has increased due to social comparison and Fear of Missing Out.

Perceived social isolation refers to the discrepancy between what you want from social relationships and your perception of social relationships. While someone may feel like they have a number of followers or Facebook friends, liking someone’s posts is a superficial form of connection. It relays the message that people are seen and heard, but it does not always mean that someone feels emotionally supported. For some people, the ability to talk about their lives on a social media platform and to catch up with others by seeing their posts justifies social withdrawal in person. How we use social media can impact whether you feel connected or isolated. Some people use social media to check in with friends and family who are far away, but others may find themselves mindlessly scrolling for hours, comparing themselves to those they see on their screen. This type of social media use can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. When social media triggers these emotions, it can be good to disconnect to regain some perspective. While young adults may not be ready to delete Facebook from their phone, they may see the value of leaving Groups or group chats that make them feel badly about themselves. 

The Decline of Unstructured Socializing

With platforms like social media, it is easier to be more aware of events happening in the community and to follow topics one is passionate about. This suggests that people are more likely to align with others based on shared interests. However, people skip levels of intimacy in getting to know other beings by being able to see what they share online, often even before meeting in person. This can help people feel more connected, but it also means people are more likely to identify differences between them and other people. In this way, conversations become more closed-ended by commenting on a post or connecting over a specific topic. 

While unstructured socializing can lead to boredom and risky behaviors, it also allows for spontaneity in relationships and openness to new experiences. People are less likely to get to know acquaintances or people they meet in public if they know that they can reach out to friends over social media instead. It is common practice for young people to look up new or potential friends on social media. Through a quick social media search, they can see if they have any friends in common, see who they interact with and access geotags to learn where they like to spend time. Social media allows the kind of access into a new friend’s life that would normally take weeks to learn in the real world. This can also lead to a perceived sense of intimacy instead of a real, meaningful connection. 

The decline of unstructured socializing is not necessarily a bad thing. While people may be less likely to make plans with others to catch up or get to know them, they are more likely to bond over structured social activities, like going for a hike, going to a concert, or attending an event in the community, which allows them time to unplug from technology. Young adults who struggle with loneliness and social anxiety may benefit from finding healthy social activities that they are passionate about and connecting with others that share similar interests. 

Socializing During a Pandemic

Loneliness and isolation are even more prevalent today as young adults continue to adjust to living in a global pandemic. Before, young people who struggled to socialize at least had opportunities to practice their social skills and expand their comfort zone. Now, social distancing and quarantines have kept people apart for over a year. 

We have now experienced over a year without birthday parties or family celebrations in the traditional sense. Where we used to have milestones and celebrations to look forward to, people around the world are having to find new ways to mark time and honor these special occasions. Young people who were seniors in high school in the past year had to give up big parts of what is supposed to make senior year so special. Graduations and proms were canceled. And for many seniors, even applying for college and attending their first semester was unlike anything they could have expected. College graduates found themselves attending lectures online and searching for jobs in a very different workforce than they had planned for. This sharp turn away from expectations can leave young people feeling resentful and left behind.

While we have seen the rise of Zoom game nights and FaceTime family reunions, the reality is that these digital interactions do not have the same effect on our emotional wellbeing as spending time together in the real world does. Not to mention, many young adults may be using Zoom and Google classroom for work and school as well. As it becomes more difficult to separate their home and work/school life, young adults also become more and more enmeshed with their online life as well. When work, school, and recreation all take place in the same physical location and on the same platforms it can be easy to suffer from “Zoom fatigue”. “Zoom fatigue” describes the tiredness, worry, or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms of communication. Like other experiences associated with the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom fatigue is widely prevalent with young adults. When the feeling of burnout overwhelms young people, they may find themselves just wanting to log off. This could mean skipping out on one of the few safe ways to socialize they have access to today. Where it might have been fun to get together with friends for a Zoom about the latest episode of Wandavision a few months ago, now, the idea of sitting in front of their monitor is exhausting. Even if it’s to interact with friends. This opting out of socialization can leave young people feeling more lonely than ever. 

Journey Home Young Adult Can Help

Journey Home Young Adult is a transitional living program for teens ages 18-23. This program addresses emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders that teens may face. Common presenting problems include depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, body image issues, ADHD and other learning issues, academic struggles, and low self-esteem. Journey Home creates an environment conducive to healing where teens can learn healthy coping skills while becoming more well-equipped to launch into adulthood. 

Our home-like setting offers therapeutic support and the opportunity for greater freedoms, responsibilities, and practice as an independent young adult. At Journey Home Young Adult clients can further education and gain independent living skills. Based on structure, support and mentoring, teens emerge from Journey Home Young Adult emotionally and intellectually equipped to successfully launch into a fulfilling life. Students leave this program feeling empowered, happy, and healthy. We can help your family today! For more information please call us at 855-918-0032.

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