We are afraid for our children because they are at home much more than we used to be. The experts advise more socializing and less screen time. Children develop socially and emotionally when they are with their friends. They meet the real world outside. But will things change for the better if we make them go outside? I don’t think so.
First, let’s define the concepts:
Solitude means there are no people around you – you are alone in a room.
Loneliness is when you are sad that you don’t have company and you feel isolated.
Can you feel lonely when you have company? Yes.
Should children spend more time outside? Yes, but not at all costs.
If children find something creative to do when they are alone, they also blossom as persons. Solitude can become a great source of pleasure.
There’s this myth of sociability in Western culture. If you are gregarious, you’re enjoyable; if you are quiet, you’re boring. You can see it in movies, music, commercial ads, everywhere. It seems that you need an intensive social life to be considered good enough. As if extroverts had more quality to offer than introverts (!)
What if you like being alone?
“If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.”
– Jean-Paul Sartre
I must admit I felt lonely the most part of my life. As a child, I wanted to play with everyone. As an adolescent, I was dissatisfied that my friends did not call me more often. There was never enough party time, life had to be crazy like a TV commercial for a soda. And then I discovered solitude and my loneliness was gone.
To enjoy being alone is somewhat of an art. Still, many people avoid solitude. Instead of wanting to recharge their batteries in seclusion, being alone makes them uncomfortable. There is just too much to face and sort out.
However, children and adolescents need some company. A healthy social life helps them develop socially and emotionally. The well-known peer acceptance. Very often a child will look up to the peers’ opinion to decide what is adequate.
Being liked by others got even more important with social media. We have gained a lot from them: access to information from all around the world, communication with people far away, opportunities to develop our business, etc. Still, dislikes, comments, and trolling make teenagers depressed or even worse. Despite trying to gain confidence by posting their photos, young girls on Instagram feel lonelier than ever.
Instead of enabling communication, social media are making antisocial behavior normal:
“It’s a safety net, teenagers are choosing to stay inside, in their safe zone, on their phones, instead of going out and physically spending time with people. Social interactions when you’re young are really scary because you don’t know where you fit in and you’re still learning how to do everything, so instead of going through the awkwardness of that, teenagers are using their phones to avoid it altogether”, says Lola Ray (18) who wants to help teenage girls with isolation and social anxiety which comes with using social media.
Source – Refinery 29
It is true. Social media make young people more alienated. They really must spend less time on the Web. However, adolescents have always felt lonely. While they learn how to become self-reliant, they don’t have enough knowledge to handle life and their own turbulent negative emotions. To them, life seems strange and hard.
I remember my own loneliness in adolescence without a PC or a mobile phone. As a tweenager I wanted everyone to love me. I daydreamed I was the prettiest girl in school. In adolescence, I was possessive towards friends. I needed others to define my own self-worth. But as I grew up, solitude has become my favorite way to cheer myself up.
We have to find a balance between making our children go out and find friends and enjoy solitude. You get to know yourself both when you are among others and when you’re all alone. Seclusion can heal if you spend time doing something that makes you grow.
How to help your children not to feel lonely
As I was sifting through the internet, I found balance. I came across advice from Virgin Media Television and added here some more which I believe can also work.
If you have children who often feel lonely, this is what they can do:
This way a child connects with others, feels needed and good about helping them. The child has a purpose and becomes a part of something bigger. They see other people’s destinies, their perspective on life changes. Working in animal shelters, humanitarian organizations, or old people’s homes gives young people life experience and much-needed confidence.
Get a hobby
Encourage children to develop their interests. This way they will be busy doing something useful they really like. There is also an opportunity to meet new friends if they choose some sport, orchestra, dancing, or art.
In her interview with the Harward Gazette, professor Ellen Winner states the importance of art:
“ The arts are a way of making sense of and understanding ourselves and others, a form of meaning-making just as important as are the sciences.”
Making art helps us cope with stress better. Even when someone is not talented, their artistic expression will reduce their anxiety and depression. Finding a hobby where the children do not consume but create will bring them more happiness and calm.
I remember the moment I really got into books and spending more alone time. I found Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five – adventures of 2 boys, 2 girls, and their dog who solved serious crimes. A book you like and a seat by the window can make you cool and carefree.
Reading makes you feel relaxed and good about yourself. You learn new things. You make connections you never noticed before, your creativity increases.
Talk to your children:
What do you want to be when you finish school?
Kids get easily lost among homework, tests, and peer problems. Thinking of what they may become would give them focus and something to strive for.
I am there for you. Always
Every day. Make your children aware that they can talk to you about everything and get your support.
Also, help them become more resilient: let them know life is both good and bad. Celebrate their achievements and discuss failures. Talk about their bad feelings. Help them face their fears. Help them understand other people’s negative emotions, too. If they have empathy and understand others, they can establish deeper communication.
You are good enough just the way you are
Very often the constant need of company and strong attachment to friends means a child is insecure. Other children can have a powerful influence on your kid’s behavior. Let your child know that they don’t have to be like the most popular kid. That kid isn’t the best, it is just the most playful, competitive, or the loudest.
Don’t take it personally
Let your child know it doesn’t matter if he/she is sometimes left out of a game. Discuss the situation but don’t let your kid think that the incident is too important.
Once a girl kicked my daughter out of a game because the girl’s best friend came and “There is room only for 3“.
Even though I felt annoyed, I said: “That’s rude. But don’t worry, she doesn’t know how to play in 4.“
If the child takes it personally, she’ll either think it is her fault or become resentful towards the other girl. And resentment takes our power away from us.
When you don’t need people, they come to you
This may seem like a piece of advice you may not want to tell someone who should spend more time with friends. Still, if the child is sensitive and needs a lot of attention, they will also need some quality alone time.
Console them by saying: “If you are friendly enough, your friends will look for you.“
Many outsiders made it in life, many popular girls in school didn’t
Very often your peers can’t see how great you are.
These people were all teased or bullied at school: Ed Sheeran, Charlize Theron, Lady Gaga, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Justin Timberlake, Eminem, even Prince Harry (for his red hair). Although their classmates treated them badly, they became successful and fulfilled.
Quality over quantity
It’s better to have a few friends than to be friends with everybody. Popularity doesn’t make you happy. A couple of good friends do.
You will always find a hater on the internet
Social media is a nice place to exercise your own hostility. Everybody is more aggressive on the Web, so tell your child:
What that kid said about you isn’t true. This is just how he/she sees the situation because of his/her own feelings. That kid wanted to insult someone to feel better about himself/herself.
Many adults spend years running away from solitude into socializing.
“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”,
– May Sarton, American poetess
A peer group is irreplaceable in every child’s development. Nevertheless, due to their sensitivity and interests, some children need more alone time. Being alone heals and helps you improve yourself. Instead of pushing them outside no matter what, help your children cherish these moments. It is better to spend time alone in a meaningful way than to be with hostile peers or continue superficial relationships.
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