A recent report issues by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) found that 1 in 10 children often feel lonely. It’s a shocking and emotive headline.
Loneliness can have such stigma attached to it and when we think about that with regard to our children this is a shocking statistic.
Loneliness has an affect on both our physical and mental health, with some suggesting that been socially isolated can be as damaging as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. In our work we find regularly that a sense of connection is one of the most important needs we have as human beings. Where do I fit? Who is around me and with me? Where do I belong?
So what can we do about it?
Well firstly, lets remind ourselves that children learn from the adults around them. Smart phones and social media play a huge part in many of our lives but are we modelling how to use them healthily? I was recently pulled up on this by my brother as we sat with my 18 month year old niece. “I’m just reading a text”, “I’m just checking that fact”, “Lets look for that on youtube”. Being present with the people in the room is a challenge we all need to respond to and if children experience the adults around them in this way, that can only be good. It’s also important that adults model how to connect authentically, vulnerably and kindly with one another, in real life not just in the virtual world. Connecting isn’t always easy but it’s essential for our wellbeing.
Secondly, we need to cultivate a climate that doesn’t interpret being alone as being lonely. Children are used to being entertained constantly in our society and that’s not too different for adults. This is mostly a good thing. But in the midst of our busy lives, do we cultivate alone time that helps us to connect to our inner self? Getting to know our own strengths, weaknesses and preferences is just part of what our Wellbeing Triangle is all about. It’s about helping us to be happy to spend time with ourselves.
None of this is a quick fix, but it’s an investment worth making if loneliness and perceived loneliness does have such an effect on our life expectancy. May our children be served by adults who understand that connection with themselves, others and ‘Other’ is important.