Ask Rooted: How Can Parents Help Teenagers Navigate a Loneliness Epidemic?

Since the CDC reported that teenagers are the most likely population to suffer from isolation related to the pandemic, much ink has been spilled over the so-called epidemic of loneliness. From the initial COVID lockdown of 2020 to continued reduced in-person interactions in 2021 and the beginnings of recovery in 2022, teenagers have certainly suffered socially and emotionally.

We asked our Rooted writers to share how they are caring for lonely teenagers in the ongoing effects of COVID-19.We hope their responses and the articles we’ve linked below will encourage you as you continue to point your teenagers to identity and community in Christ.

Join us for a webinar entitled Caring for Teenagers in an Epidemic of Loneliness” Thursday, March 10 at 1:00 CST. Join Rooted Steering Committee members Skyler Flowers and Kendal Conner and the Rooted blog’s Editor-in-Chief, Anna Meade Harris, as they talk about how we can minister the gospel to hurting teenagers. Register today!

Liz Edrington, Fellowship Groups and Young Adults Director at North Shore Fellowship in Chattanooga, TN

Working in the local church, I hear stories of loneliness from folks of every age and stage. Young mothers are lonely. Our friends of advanced age feel unseen and alone. Those with particular vulnerabilities feel missed and lonely. Our teens, too, are lonely. It was an epidemic before there was COVID. So how do we face all this loneliness?

As a single woman, I can relate. And empathy is an essential starting place. Our God, too, knew what it was to be lonely—despised and rejected (Isaiah 53:3), and left alone by his friends in Gethsemane. He isn’t embarrassed or disappointed by our loneliness; He meets us in our loneliness. It is there where he walks with us.

I have prayed in this season for the Lord to show me to whom I should reach out to for one-on-one time. And I have tried to make more introductions of folks in similar life stages (which may help lower a barrier for connection). Some questions I often find myself asking students (and adults, for that matter) is: “Is there anyone in your life you can imagine yourself connecting with more? Anyone you’d like to get to know better?” And then: “What is one step you might take toward making that happen?” These questions can help them to imagine future connections,. When I can remember, I pray for that potential connection and sometimes even follow up by asking about it the next time I see them.

What would it be like for our churches to have cultures of relational initiation on every level, where the widow risks asking the middle schooler for ice cream, the young mom risks asking her single friend to help her run errands, and the business owner risks asking the college student to an early breakfast? Can we convey this beautiful picture? Can we dream it with our coworkers, friends, and small groups, and then pray for the Spirit to move?

Katie Polski, mom of three

In the wake of COVID quarantining, and with the overwhelming rise of social media, its no wonder that loneliness amongst teens is on the rise. I see it in my own house. As image bearers of God, Christians are meant to live in community (Rom. 12:4,5). Disconnectedness from human touch and face-to-face interaction takes a toll emotionally.

We had a season with a child who struggled tremendously with feelings of loneliness, and what I noticed was that relief did not come from simply setting up social engagements. That was merely a band aid on a festering wound. Loneliness settles deep, so what helped was extra time spent one-on-one with this child in an environment in which I could really listen. During this particular season, that deliberate time spent with her spoke louder than a room filled with her peers. I was reminded of what C.S Lewis once said about the voice of God in lifes trials: God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but he shouts in our pain.”

When our children are given the space to talk about their loneliness, it helps them begin to feel a sense of reconnection. The road toward healing may be long for some, but patiently loving on them by listening goes a long way. And as the Lord provides these quieter moments, be comforted in knowing that your job is not to fix” the problem, but to usher them toward their Savior, the ultimate healer.

The incarnation is not only utterly significant for the Christian, but its completely comforting. Jesus knows what it is to be human in our broken world. Even loneliness was not foreign to him (Is. 53; Luke 22: 39-53). Remind your teen of this; let him or her know this is not weird” to feel this way. Jesus knows. And because of His sacrifice on the cross, we are brought into his family (Eph. 2:19). He promises to never leave us or forsake us. We are never alone in this life.

Allow the healing from loneliness to start with a tender embrace and attentive ears. And in each opportunity the Lord provides, point your child to Jesus, the One who is with us wherever we go (Josh. 1:9).

Mark Howard, dad of two and former youth pastor

In the early days post-lockdown, one of my kids didnt want to do anything. The loneliness was like a spiral, feeding into deeper anxiety and depression as she pushed back against any group activity. She started seeing a therapist (virtually), and that helped some. But she still resisted group activities and was not her usual self.

So finally, we required her be a part of group activities. We said she would not be able to hang out in her room (her favorite place) and read (her favorite activity) unless she also did something that involved a group, starting with youth group. God designed us to be part of a community, and it was time for her to re-enter meaningful community. She definitely pushed back at first. But we stood firm.

Eventually, after a few weeks, the battle lessened. In time, she even started wanting to go (it helped that she was able to talk her best friend into going with her, despite going to a different church.)

We also believe God designed our bodies to move, so in addition to youth group, we require her do a team sport. She can choose the sport, but its a requirement for her to get her time alone in her room. As with youth group, she resisted at first—but now she looks forward to it (most days).

Between these two changes—youth group and physical activity—we saw a remarkable transformation in her energy level and view of herself. Certainly what shes being taught at church is a part of the change—but I think a large part of it is also the common grace God offers to us in Gods gift of meaningful community and exercise.

Anna Meade Harris, mom of three

Two of my three sons moved hundreds of miles from home in 2021, one to his first post-college “real job” and the other to his college campus for the first time. Living alone in my empty nest for the first time in my life, I feel the deep loneliness they are experiencing.

I have always teased my sons that they are “double brothers”—brothers in Christ and brothers by birth—and so they are stuck with each other for life and for eternity. (Guaranteed to get at least one eye roll!) Because of our life stages, all four of us need reminders of our belonging, so I have worked to express our solidarity as a family, even as we are scattered from coast to literal coast. Now that takes the form of group texts and occasional FaceTimes (boys don’t like that…). I try to keep the whole group updated on how they can be praying for each other: this one has a test, that one has a presentation. All three of them are foodies, so we share lots of recipes and pictures of meals and menus. Comments on sports, memes from Parks and Rec, articles on current events and sermon podcasts all find their way into our group text, reminders of our shared history and ongoing conversation as a family.

As important as their family belonging is, it cannot replace their need for community where they live. These communities are harder than ever to establish, with ongoing restrictions and pandemic-fueled changes making it difficult for any of us to find those people to whom we can say, “What! You too? I thought I was the only one” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).

Our children need to be reminded: because of Christ, we always have a “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). He became one of us so that we would never have to be the “only one” in our suffering (Phil. 2; Heb. 2:18,  4:15), so that we would never have to be alone. “… for He has said, I will never [under any circumstances] desert you [nor give you up nor leave you without support, nor will I in any degree leave you helpless], nor will I forsake or let you down or relax My hold on you [assuredly not]” (Heb. 13:5 AMP)!

Advancing Grace-Driven Youth Ministry

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