This generation’s teenagers have more ways to be connected than any previous generation. Whether it’s through social media, texting, or Facetime, today’s adolescents have more avenues of connecting than any other generation could have dreamed about. Despite all the technological advances that were meant to connect us, teenagers today report fewer meaningful relationships and an increase in loneliness. Each day in my office I hear these common sentiments from high school students:
“No one wants to be my friend.”
“Everyone has their friend group already and it’s hard to break into that.”
“I feel awkward trying to talk to the people in my classes.”
“I have no one to hang out with this weekend.”
In my practice I see two main factors that contribute to this loneliness: thoughts that disconnect us, and actions that disconnect us.
During the teenage years, feelings seem like the truth. If I “feel” like someone doesn’t want to be my friend, then I will start to act as if that is true. The thoughts and assumptions that teens make about their peers often keep them from engaging socially, and most of the time these assumptions are not true! If you are feeling nervous about approaching someone to start a conversation, chances are the other person is feeling similarly.
It can be helpful to test thoughts using 2 simple questions:
“Is it true?”
“Is it helpful?”
If we test the thought: “No one wants to be my friend,” in the moment it may feel like it is true. However, walking around believing that no one wants to be my friend is going to cause me to withdraw rather than engage and may even make me seem unapproachable to or disinterested in others. So, even if this thought may feel true, it is not helping me move toward connection. If a thought is not both true and helpful, it does not deserve space in your mind. Toss it out and replace it with something more helpful.
Often our unhelpful, disconnecting thoughts lead us to seek comfort instead of connection. When we feel awkward, we simply pick up our phones and start scrolling, ignoring the chance to connect with those around us. To truly seek connection, we need to embrace the uncomfortable and the vulnerable and move toward others, even when we want to move away.
Connection requires risk. When you start a conversation or ask someone to hang out with you, there is always a chance of rejection. As in other areas of life though, there is no reward without the risk.
When I was in high school my mom would often remind me of one simple truth:
“Everyone is insecure, and everyone needs a friend.”
This reminder still helps me today when I am considering whether to seek comfort or seek connection. Although comfort can feel better in the moment, in the long run it is connection with others and the meaningful relationships in life that truly bring us joy and fulfillment.