Teenage Loneliness
and Technology

TalkTalk has a long history of leading industry efforts to ensure the internet is a safer place for young people. We are now launching our Talking Loneliness campaign, looking at whether technology should be seen as a source, symptom or solution to tackling the growing issue teenage loneliness.

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I’m proud that TalkTalk has a long history of leading industry efforts to ensure the internet is a safer place for young people. But as technology constantly evolves, it presents new issues and challenges. That’s why this research matters. As an industry, we have to continually reassess what more we can do to understand and mitigate online risks. That’s a never-ending job, but it’s crucial to ensure our young people have the safest possible experience online.

Tristia Harrison CEO of TalkTalk

View Tristia Harrison’s Blog

Source

Traditional issues cause teenage loneliness more than technology

  • Top four causes of loneliness according to young people are issues relating to money, trust, friendships and shyness
  • 46% of teenagers have discussed feelings of loneliness with their parents and 31% admitted to not having told anyone at all
  • Findings reveal that the parents felt lonelier than their teenage children

If you feel lonely, why do you think that is?

(Young people aged 13 – 16)

I can’t always do the things my friends want to because I don’t have the money

I don’t feel that I can talk to others openly

Because I don’t have friends I can rely on

I don’t have money to buy the latest gadget or follow the latest fashion so I feel like I don’t fit in

Seeing how much fun others have on social media

Not being invited to groups on social media

Feeling that I don’t have many friends on social media

The impacts of technology on loneliness may not be the same for each generation. New social technologies are important for young people to connect with their friends. The survey findings show that teenagers see social digital technologies as a way to reduce loneliness. Although, parents are able to see the positives of young people’s technology use, there is still a digital divide between the generations. Worries for parents centre on not feeling equipped or having sufficient knowledge to keep youth safe online.

Dr Rebecca Nowland Research Fellow University of Central Lancashire Faculty of Health and Well-Being

View Rebecca Nowland's Blog

Symptom

Lack of confidence and knowledge cause parents to disengage with their children’s technology experience

  • 71% of teenagers said they spend three or more hours a day using technology, excluding the time spent using technology to do their homework
  • Most parents (70%) said that they were worried about how much time their child spends online and how regularly they use technology, yet 65% said they did not limit the time their child spends online and using technology
  • Over a third (37%) of parents said they felt ill-equipped or simply unsure how to help manage or navigate their child’s technology and internet use safely

What guidelines do you have in place for your child’s usage of technology?

Parents of teenagers aged 13 – 16

I approve apps and websites before they use them

Yes (24%)
No (76%)

Parents of teenagers aged 13 – 16

I check what they’re looking at on social media

Yes (33%)
No (67%)

Parents of teenagers aged 13 – 16

I use parent protection controls/software

Yes (30%)
No (70%)

Solution

The digital divide within the family – young people say technology makes them feel less lonely

  • A quarter (26%) of parents thought that social media and the internet was making their child less lonely – a figure that doubled from their child’s perspective (48%)
  • Three quarters (77%) of teenagers said they have experienced a time when technology has had a positive impact on them
  • A quarter (25%) of parents said the internet and social media could be a solution to their teenage child’s loneliness, compared with 51% of teenagers

Parents of young people aged 13 - 16

Do you think using internet and social media is making your child more lonely or less lonely?

More lonely (20%)
Less lonely (26%)
Neither (54%)

Young people aged 13 - 16

Do you think that using the internet and social media makes you feel more lonely or less lonely?

More lonely (8%)
Less lonely (48%)
Neither (44%)

Conclusion

In all, the findings are encouraging – and broadly show that when young people are feeling lonely, technology has provided a way of making them feel less so. It is vital that the industry works together to ensure this is the case. We look forward to engaging further with relevant stakeholders including customers, parents, the Government and regulators, and other service providers to explore this subject further.

What we're doing

TalkTalk is delighted to have signed the Government’s Loneliness Pledge – committing to working together towards best practice in supporting potentially lonely employees.

Our parental filter, HomeSafe, allows parents to control what content their children access, and signposts to expert safety advice from Internet Matters.

TalkTalk is committed to using our academic- endorsed quantitative and qualitative findings to inform policy making. We will share our research with the academic community and regulators to improve outcomes for lonely and potentially lonely teenagers.

TalkTalk will promote independent guidance from Internet Matters aiming to advise teenagers and their parents about the tools available to them to make their online experience a safe and positive one.

Top tips for parents

In light of these research findings, TalkTalk has partnered with Internet Matters, the not-for-profit online safety organisation, to provide practical guidance and advice for parents to help their teenage children navigate the online world and tackle the complex issue of loneliness.

1. Tackling issue of isolation with smart use of tech

  • Encourage teenage children 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.

2. Creating connections for support

  • Help teenage 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.
  • It’s important to encourage teenage children to have a good 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.

3. Managing expectations of social media ‘only’ friends

  • Social media can provide meaningful networking where teenage children can connect with, comment on and discuss things with others, but your teenage children should avoid using social media ‘only’ as a substitute for real connections.
  • Teenage children 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.

4. Being critical about what they see online

  • Technology can expose teenage children to a vast world of vibrancy and energy where children can scroll feeds or watch videos of other teenage children doing innovative and exciting things.
  • Encourage teenage children to challenge what they see online to put it into perspective so that they 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.

5. Striking a balance between on and offline activities

  • Scrolling social media feeds, looking for likes or comments, checking emails can be a fun activity, but when those activities border on the obsessive, it might be helpful to change routines.
  • Suggest new ways for your teenage children to foster friendships offline so that they can engage in different activities and can get involved in diverse communities offline.

6. Using tech to give back and do good

  • Changing routines may help change their perspective. You may want to encourage children to explore the physical world around them, by volunteering for community activities or supporting a cause on or offline. Your teenage children 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.

To find out more, you can download the full report.