2 May 2019
By Rebecca Avery

New research reveals parent and teen divide over impact of tech on loneliness

TalkTalk Teenage Loneliness and Technology report published on the 2nd May 2019 reveals that half of teens in the UK (48%) think that social media and the internet makes them feel less lonely while only a quarter (26%) of their parents agree. The study explores parents and teenagers’ attitudes to technology and loneliness and over 2,000 young people aged 13-16 years old and theirs parents were interviewed.

The report found that:

  • Teenagers were more optimistic than their parents about the positive impact of technology
    • Half (51%) of 13-16 year olds said that during times when they have felt lonely, technology has also provided a solution to their loneliness: they  made new friends, received support and advice, and received positive comments online.
    • However, of the teenagers that did feel lonely, just under a third (31%) admitted to not having discussed their feelings with anyone.
  • Parents felt lonelier than their teenage children; 28% of parents said they felt lonely often, always or some of the time, compared to 21% of young people.
    • This may have an impact on how they advise and talk to their children about the issue.
  • Most parents (70%) worry about their teenagers’ use of technology; yet over a third (37%) felt ill-equipped or were unsure how to help manage or navigate their teenagers’ tech and online use safely.
    • This lack of confidence may lead to inaction among parents towards their teenagers’ safe use of the internet.

The top four causes of youth loneliness, according to both parents and teenagers, were issues relating to money, trust, friendships and shyness. Traditional economic and social issues are the main factors driving the feeling of loneliness among teenagers, while issues linked to the online world contribute less.

To help parents address this issue, Internet Matters have created a guide to tackling loneliness with technology. Written with the support digital parenting expert Dr Elizabeth Milovidov, the guide has 6 top tips that parents can use to help teens get the best out of their digital life and combat feelings of loneliness.

The guide shares the following suggestions for parents, which may also be useful for DSLs to address these issues when working with children and young people in schools:

  • Tackling issue of isolation with smart use of tech
    • Encourage children and young people to develop a healthy balance between screen time and face-to-face time doing activities with family and friends.
    • Create moments of shared experiences that can be with or without tech, but always shared with others.
    • Guide children to use tech in ways that supports their passions, helps them learn new skills and removes barriers to finding their voice, their identity and their community.
  • Creating connections for support
    • Help children be critical about the relationships they form online through social media or gaming platforms as bonds made online are not necessarily as real as In-Real-Life relationships.
    • Encourage children to have a balance between trusted friends on and offline to help them navigate issues that they may face.
    • Promote the idea that real connections, even if a few are better than lots of illusory connections.
  • Managing expectations of social media ‘only’ friends
    • Social media can provide meaningful networking where teenagers can connect with, comment on and discuss things with others, but they should avoid using social media ‘only’ as a substitute for real connections.
    • Teens may believe that they are truly connected with everyone they have a social media ‘connection’ with, which may lead to feelings of loneliness and disconnection if those ‘connections’ do not respond in the same manner.
  • Being critical about what they see online
    • Encourage them to challenge what they see online and put it into perspective and understand that not everyone has a better, more exciting life.
    • Help them build their self-esteem by identifying the positive aspects of their own realities.
  • Striking a balance between on and offline activities
    • Scrolling social media feeds, looking for likes or comments, checking emails can be fun, but when those activities become obsessive, it might be helpful to change routines.
    • Suggest new ways to foster friendships offline so that they can engage in different activities and can get involved in diverse communities offline.
  • Using tech to give back and do good
    • Changing routines may help change their perspective; encourage them to explore the physical world around them, by volunteering for community activities or supporting a cause on or offline. They may find like-minded peers with whom they have many things in common, both online and In-Real-Life, thus promoting a real sense of belonging.

DSLs may find it helpful to share the Internet Matters resource with parents and use the findings of the report to help develop staff and parental awareness.