Dr Rebecca Nowland from the University of Central Lancashire will be presenting her research on technology and loneliness at the Befriending Forum on 5 December 2019. She will talk about her recent work with Talk Talk and the findings presented in their report on Teenage Loneliness and Technology.
According to the report, there is a stark divide within families over the role technology can play in either improving or worsening feelings of loneliness in teenagers. 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, which looks into both parents and their own teenagers’ attitudes to technology and loneliness, interviewed more than 2,000 young people aged 13-16 years old and more than 2,000 parents of the same teenagers.
The study found teenagers were far 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 have made new friends, received support and advice, and received positive comments while being online. However, worryingly, of the teenagers that did feel lonely, just under a third (31%) admitted to not having discussed their feelings with anyone.
Across the UK, parents felt lonelier than their teenage children – which may be impacting on how they advise and talk to their children about the issue. 28% of parents said they felt lonely often, always or some of the time, compared to 21% of young people.
Traditional issues still driving youth loneliness
Notably, the top four causes of youth loneliness, according to both parents and teenagers, were issues relating to money, trust, friendships and shyness. This suggests that traditional economic and social issues are the main factors driving loneliness among teenagers, while digital technology-led issues linked to the online world contribute less. The top four contributors to teenage loneliness according to parents and teenagers:
- Not being able to take part in friends’ activities because they are too expensive
- Not being able to talk openly with others
- Not having friends that can be relied on
- Prohibitive cost of gadgets and fashion
Dr Nowland said:
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.