The CDC defines social isolation as “a lack of social connections.” It’s important to note that social isolation and loneliness are not the same, even though they can go hand in hand.
Loneliness is the feeling of being alone or lacking a personal connection with others, whereas social isolation is the physical act of being apart from others. Social isolation often leads to loneliness, but it’s possible to feel lonely even if you are around other people.
Social isolation can affect teens differently. Some teens are natural loners and generally prefer their own company to that of others. They might enjoy reading books or playing video games and connecting with friends that way. Some teens would prefer to spend time hanging out with friends in person, but they can’t for one reason or another.
If you are worried about your teen’s social isolation, it’s worth considering professional intervention. For some teens, the supportive environment of a therapeutic boarding school can help develop social connections. Having a safe environment to learn and try new activities can allow them to form new friendships with other students.
Why teens are socially isolated
There are several common reasons for teens to be socially isolated.
Enjoying alone time. As mentioned above, some teens aren’t especially social and prefer to spend time alone than hanging out in crowds.
Struggling to make friends. Teens who don’t fit in well at school or in their social groups tend to self-isolate. They might want to hang out with other people, but they don’t have anyone to hang out with.
Depression. Teens who struggle with depression often socially isolate themselves because they don’t know how to address their larger issues. Though social interaction might help with their depression, they tend to withdraw even further into themselves.
Anxiety. Having anxiety makes it tough to participate in social events. Even if they want to make friends, the apprehension around meeting new people or interacting with others can be overwhelming. Teens with anxiety might isolate themselves rather than face the discomfort and fear of social situations.
Family problems. Trouble at home can lead to social isolation for many teens. Issues like abuse and financial insecurity regularly cause teens to keep to themselves rather than develop friendships with others.
Medical concerns. Teens who have serious medical conditions or whose family members have serious medical conditions might not spend time with their friends. If they are housebound due to medical concerns, teens can feel the negative impact of having social isolation forced on them.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown an added wrench in socialization for teens in the past year. Many teens who would typically spend time hanging out with their friends, playing on sports teams, or participating in group events have been stuck in social isolation for months. This social isolation is not a personal choice for them, and it can have severe negative impacts.
The impact of social isolation on teens
People are social creatures and don’t tend to do well in social isolation. Teens who are forced into social isolation can feel lonely. When they don’t have a social support system to lean on, they are stuck on their own.
The negative impacts of loneliness include:
Higher stress levels
Higher blood pressure
Loneliness should not be taken lightly. All of the negative side effects of chronic loneliness can exacerbate one another and lead to serious physical and mental health problems.
Increased stress levels can lead to high blood pressure, trouble sleeping, and mental health issues. As anxiety and depression rise, teens often turn to substance use to numb the pain. Both depression and substance abuse are linked with a higher likelihood of suicide ideation.
If your teenager is experiencing social isolation, take it seriously. Find out if they are spending time alone because they want to or because they have no choice.
If your teen son is forced into social isolation, enrolling him in a therapeutic boarding school could be beneficial. Sundance Canyon Academy has implemented precautions during the pandemic to ensure the safety of our students. Our therapeutic approach focuses on helping students develop meaningful relationships and overcoming their struggles with depression and anxiety.