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Churches have role to play in young people's loneliness, says youth charity

by Cara Bentley

A survey for the BBC called the Loneliness Experiment found 40% of this youngest age group reported feeling alone often or very often, whereas among the over 75s this was 27%.

Only a third of those asked believed that loneliness was about being on your own, suggesting the answer to solving loneliness is not as simple as being around more people or having more friends. 

On Premier's News Hour, Dr Lucie Shuker, Head of Research at the Christian organisation Youthscape explained why a typically sociable generation might be feeling so isolated:

"There's something to do with the stage of life that you're at. So, when you are a young person, your peer group is really important and your perception of yourself, which is informed by how you think you are viewed."

She argued that it is less a generational divide, more a phase everyone goes through: "So, you're actually quite sensitise to feeling rejected, feeling left out, feeling alone, feeling misunderstood, because you are at a time of your life where you are looking for affirmation and belonging - in particular from your peer group - maybe in a way that that need lessens as we get older."

Dr Shuker explained how Youthscape are trying to teach teenagers ways out of feeling alone: "Loneliness is something that effects us all...you're not alone if you feel alone sometimes.

"Actually, it's a really normal feeling, but if it's a kind of chronic feeling, we can help and you can find support to build-up your social skills and confidence and then those times you do feel alone, actually you can find ways of coping with that that make you resilient so that rather than telling yourself a story in which nobody likes you and life is just awful and this thing can't be overcome, you begin to realise this is a normal feeling - it will pass and actually everybody else feels that way at different points too"

Speaking about the impact of social media on today's youngest generation, Dr Shuker said the causes of the results were not as simple as blaming facebook and twitter because of the online communities it also brings, but she added: "It is important that we continue to invest in spaces where young people learn the skills of relating to another adult in a face-to-face environment and so I don't think any of us would want young people to only be connecting online because there are different skills you learn around empathy and connection that come when you're in the same physical space as one another."

Dr Shuker suggested using the study as a prompt in youth groups to start conversations about loneliness and giving young people the opportunity to speak to leaders at church about potential insecurities. 

She explained how our theology as Christians helps: "This idea that everyone is welcome in the family, everyone's welcome round the table, is just wonderful and you don't have to come and perform and nothing is expected of you. You can just come as you are."

You can listen to the full interview with Dr Lucie Shuker and Premier's Cara Bentley here:

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