Loneliness can be a major problem among children. Unlike adults, children have difficulties with communicating their feelings. According to a medical center, parents must help children cope with loneliness to avert complications.
The methods to help children cope with loneliness due to physical distancing was revealed by the Mayo Clinic, a US not-for-profit medical center. Children are more prone to loneliness because they cannot fully explain what they feel. This can conceal the negative effects of physical distancing. If unaddressed, they can be at risk of anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems. The reason behind the loneliness is socialization with their peers gives a sense of belonging.
Loneliness Among Children and Adolescents
Everyone has experienced loneliness at some point in their lives. However, extended loneliness can be caused by an underlying problem. It is important to address the underlying issue to stop the negative feeling. Otherwise, the person's risk to develop mental health problems rises as long as the negative feeling persists.
According to the November 2017 report by Action for Children, a UK-based children's charity, loneliness was a common problem among adults. But in recent years, the problem was rising among children and teenagers. One in every five children, aged seven to 12 years, said they were often or sometimes lonely. One in every five adolescents said they experienced loneliness at some time. And out of those teenagers, nearly one-third described the feeling as painful and persistent.
Modern communications have been linked as both cause and cure for loneliness. On one side, almost 50% of teens aged 11 to 16 years found themselves easier to be themselves online, compared to face-to-face conversations. On another side, three in every five teens said they would feel lonely if they could not talk to their friends online. While those established the benefits, a recent survey showed that 4% of people 11 to 25 years were bullied online in the past month.
Meanwhile, a survey of 1,500 young people in Victoria, Australia showed the prevalence of loneliness among teens. Based on the June to July 2019 survey, one in six teens and one in three young adults reported loneliness. Together, more than one in four young Victorians reported problematic levels of loneliness. Those who suffered loneliness had an 18% risk of depression and a 12% risk of anxiety. Overall, one in two young Victorians reported sometimes or always feeling alone.
Among teens, aged 12 to 17 years, 16% reported problematic loneliness, 13% reported feeling lonely at least three times a week, 43% reported feeling alone, 36% reported feeling no one to turn to, 48% reported feeling left out, and 10% reported feeling that they had no one to talk to. About 27% of Victorian teens were at risk of social isolation, 19% were hearing or seeing at least one friend once per month, and 52% were close to at least one friend that could rely upon. Around 32% of the teens exhibited social anxiety symptoms and 31% showed depressive symptoms.
This year, the COVID-19 pandemic forced governments to implement physical distancing. This severed the most typical way of communicating with others. People have to rely on social media to communicate with friends and loved ones. Some people are fine with the big change but others do not cope well, especially children and teens.
The physical distancing describes creating a physical distance between each other, while the latter can be referred to as distancing oneself from others socially. This informal difference helps identify the true intent of physical distancing.
People must not forget that there are ways to stay socially connected to others, without risking themselves to COVID-19. Using various online platforms, people can still conduct dinners, parties, and club activities. Although physical contact has been restrained, most interactions can be done online. No one has to feel isolated and lonely just because gatherings have to be online.
Helping Kids Cope with COVID-19 Loneliness
Between children and teens, children are likely to experience difficulties in expressing themselves. With child care centers and schools closed, many will miss their friends, particularly in those who are building positive relationships. Missing their friends can be a source of loneliness. And unlike adults, standard strategies like visiting a friend do not always work among kids. The gap between them and their peers is a hindrance to social growth and development. They need to communicate with their same-age friends to maintain a sense of belongingness. The same circle enables them to develop their personal identity.
For children with mental health conditions, physical distancing can be more difficult. It can exacerbate their symptoms or even create a new set. And with limited access to healthcare due to the pandemic, they are at risk of long-term adverse effects. Caregivers and parents have to be the support group to help them cope until the crisis ends.
The first recommended way to avert loneliness is to have kids spend quality time with their friends. They likely have more spare time than before. Spending time with their friends can be done via voice or video calls, with the latter being better. To improve the experience, they can play games online together. This can help develop communication and social skills, mental skills, and critical thinking. Parents do not have to be very strict with screen time hours. But they need to focus on quality screen time hours by supervising what they do online.
Next, talk about feelings to untangle negative emotions. Many kids have missed the birthdays of their friends. Adults may accept missed birthdays of friends readily, but children do not. Parents have to talk with their kids about missing special events. This is one way to help them express their thoughts and acknowledge the loss.
With more time to spend, adopting a pet cat or dog may no longer be a huge burden. Children can easily bond with pets. While pets can give children a sense of comfort and security. Moreover, having a pet lets kids learn how to be affectionate, compassionate, and responsible. Taking good care of a pet is an excellent way to develop emotional skills.