The lonely generation

Early every morning, a group of women in our neighborhood gets together to walk several miles. It doesn’t matter if it is gorgeous outside, with sunshine and the tradewinds, or the brutal peak of a Florida summer, the group still gets together. The number of women walking on any given day fluctuates, but I have seen as many as twenty women participate. Some women gossip, some talk about gardening or what they are reading. Taxes and politics come up. Everyone is a charitable audience. Vive la différence.

The entire gang greets everyone they see outside – other walkers, people leaving for work, construction crews – by name and make pleasant conversation. It’s very…. Southern. But it also seems somewhat anachronistic in the age of social media. This is not something most people do anymore.

Since some members of the group are retired schoolteachers, I get a lot of questions about how we homeschool our daughter. We talk about curriculum, about resources for gifted and talented children. We talk about different education philosophies. We talk about what’s going on in the public schools in our area. (The latter inevitably evolves into a conversation about school violence or Common Core.)

Yesterday, one of the women asked me about our daughter’s friends. Homeschoolers are accustomed to folks asking about “socialization,” as it has become something of a cliché. How will your child meet people and make friends if they do not attend a traditional school? Gee, I don’t know, through playing in the neighborhood, church, extracurricular activities, camps, park days with other homeschoolers, future jobs and internships…. Pretty much by being anywhere other people also exist?

I try to politely detail the various opportunities for meeting people, but I rarely confess the truth:

It is really, really, really difficult for homeschoolers to develop genuine friendships.

But that’s also true for all good kids these days.

San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge made a name for herself studying the loneliness and depression of generations raised on social media versus those who came before the technology. (She wrote a well-known piece in The Atlantic, Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?)

Among her findings published elsewhere:

The percent of high school seniors who said they often felt lonely increased from 26 percent in 2012 to 39 percent in 2017.

The number of 12th graders who said they often felt left out also increased, from 30 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2017.

The data and study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, are from nationally representative surveys of 8.2 million U.S. adolescents between 1976 and 2017. 

The increase in loneliness might be due to how teens spend their leisure time, Twenge says. When compared to teens in earlier decades, Gen Z are less likely to “get together with friends in person, go to parties, go out with friends, date, ride in cars for fun, go to shopping malls, or go to the movies,” she reported.


Other statistics from Twenge’s study: 

• In the late 1970s, 52 percent of 12th graders said they got together with their friends almost every day but, by 2017, only 28 percent did.

• In 2017, teens got together with their friends 68 fewer times a year than they did in the early 1990s and high school seniors went out on dates 32 fewer times a year.

• Gen Z 10th graders went to approximately 17 fewer parties a year than Gen X 10th graders did.

The fact of the matter is that “socialization” isn’t happening at traditional schools now. Kids aren’t learning to negotiate complicated interpersonal relationships with their peers because Zuckerberg & Co. have reduced their peers to avatars – fantastical and impermanent representations of themselves, who live in realms devoid of accountability and consequences, that sometimes devastatingly collide with the real world. It’s making a lot of kids mentally ill, and it’s starting in elementary school. It makes some kids physically violent. It makes some kids harass and emotionally goad others. It makes some kids turn into hermits. It makes some kids objectify and mortify themselves. It makes some kids turn to substance abuse. It makes some kids invent weaknesses and seek out deviant lifestyles for attention in a culture that fetishizes “struggle.” Is that the sort of “socialization” homeschooled kids are supposed to covet? The opportunity to have a kid who is looking for a father figure on 8 Chan as a lab partner?

As homeschoolers, we see this unfolding from a strange vantage point. I want our daughter to enjoy the company of children from diverse backgrounds. But it’s difficult to find any children that do not have extreme behavioral issues now. The number of children with absentee parents is off the charts. And schools sort children into discrete spheres of “accommodation” now, meaning that children get to train adults to behave the way they want instead of the other way around.

Our daughter was riding bikes with a little girl her age recently, and I told them both to avoid riding their bikes into a busy street. Our daughter nodded that she understood. The other girl said “blah, blah, blah, blah” and did a mocking dance. She wasn’t upset with my suggestion. This is just what she does. There is not a single adult in her life that cares to discipline her behavior. Rude is her baseline. Rude is the baseline of almost every child in her orbit. I wish I could say this is an outlier in our encounters with other kids, but it’s actually closer to the rule.

For homeschoolers, adults and not other children are the people they see the most on a daily basis. This is especially true for our daughter, who is an only child. She spends her day with her parents, listening to her parents talking to clients and other professional relationships. She tags along on errands and eats out at restaurants. She gets personal instruction on horseback riding, and so on.

Because of this, homeschooled children generally start to carry themselves like adults very early on. They have large vocabularies. They speak strategically, trying to be persuasive and make sound arguments instead of emoting. This can create a considerable rift between them and peers who spend their days in a traditional school environment where adults often endeavor to put themselves on a child’s level. But it’s even worse now, with children being outright rewarded for immaturity or ignored altogether. There’s basically no common ground whatsoever.

I do worry about our daughter being so alienated from other members of younger generations. But I also want her to behave nothing like them.

It strikes me that the single best thing a parent can do for their children now is persuade them not to have social media accounts and to try to make that case to their friends’ parents. Learn to go through the day without asking other people what you should think about yourself or about other people. Spend your day doing something you love or expanding your knowledge or doing something spiritually valuable instead of passively shitting on the lives, beliefs, and appearances of others.

If people did this in herds, a lot of things about our society would improve, with the most important among them being a return to safe schools and bona fide friendships.

4 thoughts on “The lonely generation

  1. Another wonderful post! You write so well, and I often find myself agreeing with every sentence!

    We’ve already decided our kids aren’t getting any social media accounts until they’re in college (and hopefully by then they won’t care about them too much). It is so hard to find friends for our two oldest (9 and almost 5) that like you said, don’t have behavioral issues. And I don’t want to keep the bad ones around because of the very true verse, “Don’t be fooled, bad company corrupts good morals.” It rarely goes the other way where your good child can change the bad one (sadly).

    Anyway, just wanted to finally comment again… your posts are **great.**

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I followed your blog because I had the sense that you were a kindred spirit and love everything you write.

      I have not seen a group like this before, to be honest. To me, there are two components that make it special: the social aspect and simply getting outside and enjoying Creation. I think all the time about the separation between habit and ritual in our society.


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