Nav: Home

Teens who seek solitude may know what's best for them, research suggests

March 22, 2019

Teens who choose to spend time alone may know what's best for them, according to new research that suggests solitude isn't a red flag for isolation or depression.

The key factor is choice, say researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Wilmington College: When solitude is imposed on adolescents and young adults, whether as punishment or as a result of social anxiety, it can be problematic. But chosen solitude contributes to personal growth and self-acceptance, they found.

"Solitude has gotten a lot of bad press, especially for adolescents who get labeled as social misfits or lonely," said Margarita Azmitia, professor of psychology at UC Santa Cruz and coauthor of a new paper in the Journal of Adolescence. "Sometimes, solitude is good. Developmentally, learning to be alone is a skill, and it can be refreshing and restorative."

Most previous studies confounded solitude with loneliness or shyness, said Azmitia. "There's a stigma for kids who spend time alone. They're considered lacking in social skills, or they get labeled 'loners,' " she said. "It's beneficial to know when you need to be alone and when you need to be with others. This study quantifies the benefits of solitude and distinguishes it from the costs of loneliness or isolation."

Virginia Thomas (PhD, '17, psychology), assistant professor of psychology at Wilmington College, spearheaded the research as a graduate student in Azmitia's lab, where she developed a specialization in the role of solitude in identity development and emotional wellbeing.

When adolescents and young adults choose to spend time alone, solitude can provide an opportunity for self-reflection, creative expression, or spiritual renewal. But it can be challenging when it is imposed on them--when they opt out of social engagement because they lack friends, feel awkward, experience social anxiety, or are being punished, said Thomas.

To distinguish between these motivations, Thomas and Azmitia developed a 14-item survey that asked respondents to rate their motivations for solitude on a four-point scale, posing questions like, "I feel energized when I spend time by myself," and "I enjoy the quiet," versus "I feel uncomfortable when I'm with others," and "I regret things I say or do when I'm with others."

"We got clear results that are pretty reliable indicators of adaptive versus maladaptive solitude," said Thomas. Those who seek solitude because they feel rejected or want to retreat into isolation are at greater risk of social anxiety, loneliness, and depression, and they tend to have lower levels of identity development, autonomy, and positive relationships with others. In contrast, those who seek solitude for positive reasons, such as self-reflection or a desire for peace and quiet, face none of these risks.

Today's fast-paced, device-driven culture emphasizes being connected to friends and associates 24/7, and young people have little practice learning to manage their time alone productively. Imposed solitude is more problematic for adolescents, who often worry about being rejected by their peers or friends or fear that being alone means they are unpopular. However, the capacity for solitude blossoms in young adults, the researchers found.

"These results increase our awareness that being alone can be restorative and a positive thing," said Thomas. "The question is how to be alone without feeling like we're missing out. For many people, solitude is like exercising a muscle they've never used. You have to develop it, flex it, and learn to use time alone to your benefit."

Solitude serves the same positive functions in introverts and extroverts. "Introverts just need more of it," noted Thomas.

"Our culture is pretty biased toward extroversion," she said. "When we see any sign of shyness or introversion in children, we worry they won't be popular. But we overlook plenty of well-adjusted teens and young adults who are perfectly happy when alone, and who benefit from their solitude."

Both researchers encouraged parents to appreciate the benefits of solitude for their children. "Parents can help their children understand that being alone isn't bad. It doesn't mean nobody likes you," said Azmitia. "Solitude can improve the wellbeing of kids who are overstimulated. They can learn to regulate their behavior, on their own, without being told to."

"We need to build our cultural understanding that we don't have to be social all the time," said Azmitia. "Sometimes alone time is good time."
-end-


University of California - Santa Cruz

Related Loneliness Articles:

From San Diego to Italy, study suggests wisdom can protect against loneliness
Researchers at UC San Diego School of Medicine and University of Rome La Sapienza examined middle-aged and older adults in San Diego and Cilento, Italy and found loneliness and wisdom had a strong negative correlation.
Pets linked to maintaining better mental health and reducing loneliness during lockdown, new research shows
Sharing a home with a pet appeared to act as a buffer against psychological stress during lockdown, a new survey shows.
Loneliness levels high during COVID-19 lockdown
During the initial phase of COVID-19 lockdown, rates of loneliness among people in the UK were high and were associated with a number of social and health factors, according to a new study published this week in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Jenny Groarke of Queen's University Belfast, UK, and colleagues.
Talking alone: Researchers use artificial intelligence tools to predict loneliness
A team led by researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine has used artificial intelligence technologies to analyze natural language patterns to discern degrees of loneliness in older adults.
Loneliness predicts development of type 2 diabetes
New King's College London research has shown for the first time that people over 50 who report higher levels of loneliness are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
Loneliness doubled among older adults in first months of COVID-19, poll shows
Staying close to home and avoiding crowded places can help older adults reduce their risk of COVID-19.
Older adults's faced mental health issues during the pandemic
Older adults experienced greater depression and loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new study by Indiana University researchers, and relationship strength (perceived closeness to network members) moderated the relationship between loneliness and depression.
New research highlights increased loneliness in over-70s during COVID-19 pandemic
A joint report from Trinity College Dublin researchers and age charity ALONE highlights effects of COVID-19 government measures on Ireland's older population.
People with coronavirus symptoms more likely to have psychiatric disorders and loneliness
People who have or had COVID-19 symptoms are more likely to develop general psychiatric disorders and are lonelier, with women and young people more at risk, says a just-published study co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School.
FSU researchers find resilience, not loneliness in nationwide study of pandemic respon
Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has not led to an overall increase in loneliness among Americans.
More Loneliness News and Loneliness Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.