A teenager sits in his room all day, spends hours on a computer, and is constantly wearing headphones at home and has his head in the clouds. It seems that he no longer needs us, his parents. He gives only one answer to all our questions: “It’s ok”. This happens in many families. Have you lost contact with him? When should we be afraid of our teenager’s loneliness, in what cases is it normal and what should you do if you really want to hug your son or daughter? Ekaterina Sivanova, a family psychologist and consultant, and mother of three children, replies.
Parents of teenagers most often turn to me with their anxiety that their child doesn’t need to communicate with them anymore, spends most of the time in his room or at his computer desk with headphones in.
Why does he prefer solitude? Is he feeling all right? What am I doing wrong?
Teenagers Talk About Loneliness
I write in a column about my experience: personal, maternal, professional. Sometimes I share the thoughts of my children, but I really want to give the floor to the teenagers themselves. Today I turned to my clients and readers for help.
So, the topic of our conversation today is the loneliness of a teenager. Let’s listen to what our children write and say about it.
“I love to be alone in my room. I have a younger brother, he makes a lot of noise. And he does not enter my room, he does not throw his toys there. I do my homework, listen to music. If I didn’t have to eat, I would go out even less often. I don’t feel the need to communicate with my parents”. E., 15 years old.
“What’s wrong with being alone? I’m enjoying myself. I draw. That’s enough for me. Moreover, at school and at the art school, I communicate with people all the time. Parents? I know in advance everything they will say. ” M., 16 years old.
“I don’t like to be alone. When mom comes home from work in the evening, the two of us have dinner and talk about everything. I’m alone all the time. Mom works as an ambulance doctor. It’s rare for us to meet at home, even on weekends. I hate and even fear loneliness.” K., 14 years old.
“I recently thought about whether I could spend 20 years in solitary confinement. I think not. I need people nearby, friends. In quarantine, this was the most awful thing: the inability to go out with friends. No. Loneliness is bad.” S., 16 years old.
“Why don’t I want to leave my room? What for? To listen again that I’m doing everything wrong? I already know my mother’s mood when she inserts the key into the keyhole. Why should I run into trouble?” O., 14 years old.
Why It Is Okay to Be Alone
What do you, my adult interlocutors, think about loneliness? How does it feel to be in this state? Being alone and being lonely are two different things.
Take my word for it: everything will be fine. Just because you are reading this article, you can say that you are a good, caring and considerate parent.
And being alone, spending time alone for a teenager is a variant of the norm.
At least because the task of adolescence is to answer the questions: “Who am I? Who am I with? Where am I going?” Don’t you agree that it is better to think about such topics and make decisions outside the company? And a teenager tends to change a company precisely in order to answer the question: “Who are my people?”
When You Need to Worry
Still, let’s first define the situations when you need to worry.
If your child:
• does not get out of bed for several days: insomnia at night and increased sleepiness during the day,
• refuses to eat (or other severe eating disorders are visible),
• does not make contact,
• avoids friends,
• is in a depressed mood for a long time,
• the attitude towards learning has changed dramatically, academic performance has decreased,
• refuses to shower, sleeps and stays awake in the same clothes for weeks on end.
If you find this behavior in a teenager, there is a reason to seek help from a psychotherapist in order to refute or confirm depression.
In each of the points, you can find reasons not to do this (for example, “the teenager has insomnia because he played on the computer for too long”, or vice versa, he does not sleep because of the same reason). But believe me, this is the case when it is better to play it safe.
Do not be afraid of going to psychotherapists! Do not believe the speculation that this will somehow affect the child’s life or “he will be registered”. Modern doctors are able not only to provide assistance by choosing the right treatment, but also to conduct a conversation with the patient so that he has the motivation to change his condition. Yes, a psychiatrist is someone who prescribes pills, not the one who talks. But one can still meet with a psychologist afterwards just in order to talk over all painful topics.
How to Let Go of a Child
When everything that requires medical support is excluded, only patience and love can come to our aid. What is the reason parents are most often worried in situations when their child does not leave the room all day? It is loss of control over the situation.
What is he or she doing there? You can’t go in and check every hour. And even if you go in, you still won’t understand anything. Again, you can’t look over his or her shoulder.
At this point, powerlessness sets in, and even despair overwhelms us.
At this point, we, the parents of teenagers, find ourselves suddenly either unnecessary or free. And this is the very moment when you should pay attention to your life and start letting your child float freely.
And oh, how difficult it is, and also scary!
For the last 15 years you have been needed, busy, and now, suddenly you again belong to yourself and you absolutely do not understand what to do with yourself. It’s good if over the years another child has been born or if you have managed to build a partnership with your husband. And what if not? And what if you yourself have a midlife crisis blooming at this moment? But what if it is during this difficult period in the child’s life that a family crisis has fallen and the marriage is about to collapse?
Again and again I will repeat: take care of yourself, build your life.
Feeling nervous that the child is answering to everything “Ok,” ask yourself the question: “What am I not doing for myself right now? What important things am I missing? What don’t I see in my life?”
What to Do to Become Closer
You can say: “But how can I think about myself when I miss my child, and he is there, in the next room, and I can’t even hug him?”
Yes, I agree. It is impossible to think about anything.
And the only correct solution in this situation is to knock on the door of your son’s or daughter’s room, ask permission to enter, and say:
“I really want to hug you. When you want to chat, come to the kitchen, I’m drinking tea.”
This is all we can do here and now.
And if you’re lucky, if a teenager left his “den”, then you should not talk with him about school / appearance / terrible friends, but about what is happening in your life now (you read a book, watched a movie, walked, thought, understood something, had an interesting project at work).
No matter how strange it may be, but it is about adolescent loneliness that not so many articles have been written, and the number of popular science books is even less. And the topic is very acute. But we have fiction books and films too. You can find ready lists on the net.
I would like to draw your attention to the book (the film is also good) by Foer Jonathan “It’s Terribly Loud and Extremely Close” and the movie “I Ask to Accuse Klava K. of My Death.” I usually recommend reading and watching them with your kids, but trust me, even if your teenager doesn’t join you, the time you spend reading the book and watching the movie will benefit you as a parent.
So, if you have excluded a negative scenario, then, coming across the loneliness that your child lives through, have patience. Growing is never easy, and sometimes it hurts. Our children need to go through this in order to become adults who will make our world a better place.
Translated by Alyona Malafeeva