Loneliness remains area of concern among teens locally and nationally

By: JULIA SUDOL

Psychology professionals note that the increasing role of social media and screen interaction in the lives of teenagers can lead to isolation and a loss of connections. Photo courtesy by SC Lover

“Cross the line if sometimes you feel lonely on campus,” motivational speaker Freddie Silveria said during Breaking Down the Walls, a day-long event Aug. 30 at Carmel High School, designed for students to unite together, learn from each other and empower one another.

About 70 percent of the participating students crossed the line. Silveria was shocked. More students had crossed the line when asked that question than typical of other high schools.

But is feeling lonely a norm at CHS or in this generation overall? When everyone’s idea of life and relationships is based online where two besties share a selfie and six friends post the same Snapchat of them singing Calvin Harris’ “Rollin” while driving down the coast to Big Sur with all the windows down.

A lot of students tend to think so. According to the Census Bureau, 32 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds in 2010 reported feeling “lonely most or all of the time.”

But what does loneliness really mean? And is isolation always negative? Both of these concepts have varied interpretation simply throughout CHS, leaving the global meaning of them to the imagination.

English teacher Patrick Robel participated in Breaking Down the Walls and wasn’t surprised to see many students admit to feeling lonely.

“I think we live in a society that creates that as a norm,” Robel says. “So, if we don’t even know what it’s like to not be lonely and feel isolated, then how do we even know we’re lonely and isolated?”

Senior Udi El Martinez points out that one factor that isolates individuals at CHS is wealth.

“When it comes to how wealth can divide the school, I feel like that’s actually an issue,” El Martinez explains. “I’ve been excluded from certain cliques just because there are a lot of students in a certain clique that have more of a family income than I do. I feel like that’s an unfair reason why students should be isolated.”

This may cause students to sit by themselves at lunch, and many times, Study Hall teacher Pam Sullivan sits by them and ask if they’re okay.

“They say they are happy to be that way,” Sullivan says. “But you wonder how honest they’re being.”

Some individuals are simply introverts, there’s no doubt about that, but University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo found that 20 percent of all individuals are at one point or another isolated and, most of the time, unhappy.

Senior James Delehanty spent most of his junior year isolated of his own will.

“I went through a period of coming into my own… and it was a pretty conscious decision to think, ‘I’m going to take most of these people out of my life and leave what I need and rely on them,’” Delehanty says.

The self-defined introvert explains that there are varying degrees of isolation with varying degrees of problematic qualities.

“If you’re isolating yourself for the right reasons, for example, if you’re starting to hang out with a bad group of people that is impacting your school life, home life and personal life negatively, then isolating yourself in order to prevent yourself from falling into too deep of a level can actually be a good thing,” Delehanty says. “On the other hand, if you’re isolating yourself and shutting people out during a time when you need people to help you, then I think that that’s certainly not going to be a good thing.”

According to the 2014 to 2015 Carmel Unified Healthy Kid Survey, 30 percent of ninth-graders and 29 percent of eleventh-graders reported feeling school connectedness. This was measured by asking students how much they relate to statements such as “I feel close to the people at this school” or “I feel like I’m part of this school.”

Such results prompted action among the administration, which is why last year faculty members created two Social/Emotional Learning topic teams, one dedicated to address students’ social and emotional wellness and support it. Robel explains that to do so, teachers have worked toward applying compassion, empathy and mindfulness into their everyday lessons.

Social studies teacher Bill Schrier conducts check-ins every once in a while in which the entire class gathers in a circle, takes a moment to close their eyes, focuses on their present selves and shares whatever they feel comfortable with.

“When humans get stressed, often times we think we’re the only ones dealing with it,” Schrier says. “There’s some relief in knowing that you’re not the only one, and being able to share what you’re going through with other people shows strength in that.”

Opportunities like this one, where teenagers physically get together and all focus on one thing, are more rare than expected in a world of social media, where connection seems so effortless, yet most of it is blocked by a screen. Psychologist Valerie Torres, who currently runs her own practice and used to work at a runaway and homeless youth program, mentions the counterintuitive effects of social media.

“More teenagers rely on social media and screen interaction for their sense of connection, which may leave them feeling somewhat isolated and less likely to deeply connect with their friends,” Torres says.

Awareness of loneliness and isolation has skyrocketed ever since researchers from Brigham Young University published an influential meta-analysis of scientific literature on the topic of loneliness in Forbes magazine, which stated that isolation increases one’s risk of death by 30 percent. In other words, isolation may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity.

So what can people do to minimize it?

“It’s easier said than done, but kindness,” freshman Emily Valdez says with a smile. “Simply saying hi or smiling at a stranger may be the highlight of their day. You never know, so why not do it?”