Why today’s teenagers feel less lonely

These days, you don’t even have to leave the house to feel like you’re hanging out with your friends. When my friends invite me to go somewhere and I just want to stay at home in my PJs, I can catch their best jokes when they retell them on Twitter, check out their group selfie on Instagram, and experience a six second slice of the party on Vine.

It seems like a lot of teenagers are starting to feel the same way, too. According to a New York Times report on a new scientific study, today’s teenagers are less lonely than they were 10 or 20 years ago, when “Twitter” was still a thing that birds did and people actually took photos with Polaroid cameras instead of using filters. For decades now, thousands of American teenagers have been taking the same survey about loneliness that asks them how much they agree with the statement “A lot of the times I feel lonely” and, according to that measure, loneliness has been on the decline with social media use potentially driving it down.

This is especially good news for teenagers because some people suspect that social media use has been making adults lonely. And while it’s true that today’s adults are getting lonelier, an AARP survey of adults over 45 didn’t find a significant difference in loneliness between those who used social media and those who did not. I can confirm based on my anecdotal experience watching my mom like and leave at least three comments on every single photo of my nephew that Facebook helps her feel less alone. In her defense, he is super adorable.

But before you start staying in every night with only your computer by your side, you should know that there’s some worrying news from this same study, too. For decades, teenagers have also been responding to how much they agree with the statements: “I usually have a few friends around I can get together with.” And, “There is always someone I can turn to if I need help.” Their responses to these prompts have gotten worse over time. While today’s teenagers feel less lonely overall, they also feel less able to rely on each other IRL than pre-Internet teenagers. I call this the “ride to the airport” syndrome: I can joke around with hundreds of people on Facebook, but the second I ask one of them for a ride to the airport, they suddenly stop sending me cute Pusheen stickers and find something else to do.

What’s the lesson here? Social media can be a great way to hang out with your friends without having to get out of bed. But there’s also no substitute for having a shoulder to cry on or a friend who can come over and paint the nails on your non-dominant hand. So go ahead and spend a quiet night in scrolling through Facebook, but be sure to get some face time in with your friends, too. And, no, FaceTime doesn’t count. But nice try.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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