How to Deal With Loneliness: Helping Socially Isolated Teens 

Table of Contents

    Clinically Reviewed by Dr. Rob Gent, PhD, LPC 

    Loneliness can be incredibly challenging for teenagers as they navigate the complexities of growing up, and it can be helpful for parents to know how to help teens deal with loneliness. Teens feeling lonely can begin to feel this way due to social pressures, academic stress, or changes in family dynamics. 

    As a parent or guardian, it’s important to offer support and understanding to help young people cope with feelings of loneliness, especially during significant life changes or changes in their daily life, such as a move, summer break, divorce, grief, or job loss. 

    What is loneliness?

    Loneliness is the state of distress or discomfort that results when a teen receives a gap between their desires for social connection and actual experiences of it.

    What Are the Warning Signs of a Teen Who Is Feeling Lonely?

    Some common indicators include withdrawal from social activities, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, sudden drop in academic performance, irritability, or expressions of sadness or isolation.  

    Other common signs of a teen who is feeling lonely include: 

    How Does Teen Loneliness Affect Their Mental Health?

    Teen loneliness can have a significant impact on their mental health. It can lead to feelings of sadness, depression, and isolation. When left unaddressed, it may contribute to a decline in academic performance, changes in behavior, and even physical health issues. 

    Teens may struggle with low self-esteem and find it challenging to form meaningful connections with others, ultimately leading to a negative impact on their mental health. Moreover, teens with mental health conditions such as social anxiety may struggle even more with feelings of isolation and disconnection, making it crucial for them to learn how to cope with alone time and maintain healthy social relationships. 

    Why is My Teen Feeling Lonely?

    Teen loneliness among teenagers can stem from various factors, including:

    • Undeveloped social skills 
    • Externalized / social messaging of acceptance 
    • Bullying 
    • Mental health issues 
    • Academic pressure or issues 
    • Unhealthy family dynamics 

    How Does Loneliness Affect Teens Who Identify as Male or Female Differently?

    Teen loneliness can affect males and females differently due to societal norms, expectations, and gender roles that play a role in how males or females feel they can cope or deal with loneliness. Males may be more prone to masking their emotions and withdrawing internally, leading to feelings of isolation and disconnection. On the other hand, females may be more likely to seek emotional support from friends or family members.  However, they can still experience intense loneliness if they feel misunderstood or unsupported. 

    Teen Male Loneliness 

    Teen male loneliness often goes unnoticed as societal expectations may discourage them from expressing vulnerability. They might turn to distracting behaviors or become more withdrawn, which can lead to a deeper sense of isolation.  

    Teen male loneliness symptoms can include: 

    • Increased risk of depression and anxiety 
    • Substance use issues 
    • Engaging in risky behavior 
    • Difficulties forming meaningful connections and relationships 
    • Video game addiction

    Teen Female Loneliness 

    Female teens experiencing loneliness may have different coping mechanisms compared to their male counterparts. Females are more likely to seek emotional support from friends or family members. Still, if they feel unheard or misunderstood, their loneliness can intensify. 

    Teen female loneliness symptoms can include: 

    • Increased self-comparison or self-criticism 
    • Feelings of inadequacy 
    • Self-harm related issues 
    • Increased substance use 
    • Increased social isolation and withdrawal

    Does Screen Time Increase Loneliness in Teens?

    Increased feelings of loneliness in teens have been linked to excessive screen time.  For example, a study published in the Journal of Adolescence stated that during a year-long study, high school students showed an increase in loneliness related to how much time was spent on the internet. 

    Constant engagement with screens can lead to a decrease in face-to-face interactions, impacting a teen’s ability to form meaningful connections with others. If you’re looking to help your teen stop feeling lonely or to overcome loneliness, encouraging healthy screen time habits such as using video chat and promoting offline social interactions with good friends can help alleviate loneliness among teenagers. 

    How Can I Help My Teen Deal with Loneliness? 

    As a parent or caregiver, some of the best ways to help teens deal with and handle loneliness include spending quality time with your teen laughing, playing, sharing emotions, reducing screen time, and encouraging enrollment in volunteer opportunities, jobs, or groups. All of these can help teens to challenge negative thoughts and alleviate the sense of loneliness and isolation. Here’s more of what parents need to know about each way they can help teens deal with loneliness: 

    Socially isolated teen discusses how to deal with loneliness with parent.

    1. Encourage Open Communication About Loneliness and Feelings of Isolation 

    Parents can foster trust and understanding by creating a safe space for their children to express themselves. They can also help encourage communication about loneliness by encouraging teens to express their emotions in a healthy way without judgment, actively listening, and approaching communication with empathy and understanding. Engaging in open discussions about loneliness can also help identify underlying issues and provide opportunities for solutions.  Discuss and normalize feelings and behaviors associated with friendship, companionship, and being socially connected.

    2. Teach Teens to Start Conversations With Others Based On Similarities 

    Teach teens how to ask others about their interests and to build connections on these interests. For example, if they admire the work someone does in one of their classes, encourage teens to reach out to that person and form stronger relationships. Encourage a healthy sense of humor in your teen and help teens compliment someone or participate in small acts of kindness, which build lasting impressions and relationships with new people. 

    3. Spend Time as A Family Doing Outdoor Activities 

    Engaging in outdoor activities as a family can provide a refreshing change of scenery and foster stronger bonds between family members and teens. Being in nature can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and create opportunities for meaningful interactions. Whether it’s a hike in the mountains, a picnic at the park, or a day at the beach, spending quality time together outdoors can strengthen connections and create lasting memories.

    4. Reduce Screen Time 

    Reducing screen time is essential for maintaining healthy social connections. Excessive time spent on devices can lead to isolation and hinder face-to-face interactions.  

    Encourage teens to limit their screen time by prioritizing real-life interactions with friends and family and by setting down boundaries when needed to help teens reduce screen time. Additionally, it is important to remind teens to protect their personal information while using the internet and to be cautious when interacting with strangers online. 

    5. Encourage Joining Groups or Clubs That Further Interests 

    Encouraging teens to find a club, sport, musical group, leadership group, church, community group, or any group they may be interested in that meets regularly can help reduce loneliness and social isolation in teens. If one does not exist that your teen is interested in, encourage them to consider starting one and creating opportunities for others to join, including close friends and new acquaintances. Joining a group or club is a great way to make friends and get together with like-minded people. 

    Teen deals with loneliness during the summer by joining a volunteer group with friends.

    6. Discuss Volunteer or Part Time Job Opportunities 

    Jobs are an excellent opportunity for teens to build life skills with co-workers and peers of all ages. Teens will also have the chance to learn important money-related skills as they grow and put themselves in situations where they are combating loneliness. Volunteering for a cause your teen is passionate about can be a powerful way for them to beat loneliness and social isolation issues. Encourage your teen to volunteer at locations or industries where they are shown interest.

    When Is Treatment Helpful for Teen Loneliness or Social Isolation?

    Treatment for teen loneliness or social isolation may be necessary when the feelings become persistent or significantly impact their daily life and well-being or if your teen shows signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues in addition to loneliness. 

    There are multiple treatment options, such as outpatient therapy, intensive outpatient programs, partial hospitalization programs, or virtual intensive outpatient programs, that could be beneficial for teens who are experiencing prolonged social isolation or withdrawal or feelings of extreme loneliness.

    Summer Treatment Programs

    If you think your teen is struggling with loneliness, social isolation, or other mental health issues, take a look at our summer treatment programs. A summer treatment program from Embark can provide a motivational and therapeutic experience for teens to heal and learn important life skills during the summer.

    Online Therapy for Loneliness and Social Isolation

    A virtual intensive outpatient program can provide a good lower level of treatment for a teen who is experiencing issues related to frequent loneliness, social withdrawal, or depression-related symptoms. During an Embark virtual therapy program, teens will work with therapists from home through therapies like trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to learn how to challenge feelings of loneliness or social isolation.  

    If you or your teen is interested in learning more about virtual therapy and treatment, contact us today, and we’ll walk you through each step of the healing journey! 

    Dealing with Loneliness: Moving Forward 

    There are many ways that parents can help teens deal with and combat loneliness. Parents can help their teens by setting boundaries around screen time, encouraging participation in groups, clubs, jobs or volunteer opportunities, and providing opportunities for open communication. These can all help a teen who is feeling lonely or is socially isolated.  

    Embark is the most trusted name in teen and young adult mental health treatment. We’re driven to find the help your family needs. If you’re looking for support, contact us today! 

    About the Author

    Embark Behavioral Health

    Embark Behavioral Health is a leading network of outpatient centers and residential programs offering premier mental health treatment for preteens, teens, and young adults. Dedicated to its big mission of reversing the trends of teen and young adult anxiety, depression, and suicide by 2028, Embark offers a robust continuum of care with different levels of service and programming; has a deep legacy of over 25 years serving youths; works with families to adjust treatment in real time to improve results; treats the entire family using an evidence-supported approach; and offers the highest levels of quality care and safety standards. For more information about Embark or its treatment programs, including virtual services, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), therapeutic day treatment programs, also known as partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), residential treatment, and outdoor therapy, visit