This Post – The Power of Solitude: Why Alone Time Could Be the Key to Your Teen’s Well-Being / Post updated 2023
“My daughter is outgoing, she’s a good student and she has a handful of close friends. But, nearly every day after school she just hangs out alone in her room listening to music and reading. I’m worried about her.”
As parents, we have a tendency to worry about everything. But, when our child begins spending a little too much time alone, we fear the worst. I know I certainly did.
A few years ago there was a period of time when I felt my son was spending too much time alone. Even though he had a great group of friends, an active social life in school and extracurricular activities, he preferred staying home nearly every Friday and Saturday night.
Every time he chose to spend another Friday night at home I was worried he might be lonely or struggling. I was also concerned that he was missing out on all the fun he should have been having at his age, which made me nudge him even harder. Even after countless conversations trying to persuade him to spend more time with his friends, he remained steadfast in hanging out in his room reading, playing on the computer or researching some new gadget he wanted to order on Amazon.
What I didn’t realize at the time is that my well-intentioned attempts to help my son become more involved socially, put himself out there and enjoy life, (at least by my definition), was creating conflict in our relationship. What I also didn’t realize is that I was inadvertently trying to take away the one thing he needed most… time alone.
I was so wrapped up in trying to dictate what I thought he should be doing, that I lost sight of what he needed to be doing. He wasn’t being anti-social and he wasn’t lonely. He needed that time alone and I needed to respect him and stop trying to push my ideology of what a “great time” was on him.
The harsh reality is that our slick-paced society has placed a negative connotation on “alone time,” especially as it relates to teenagers. If they’re not busy at school, in extracurricular activities, involved in sports, working or engaged with friends every moment of the day and they’re spending time alone they must be lonely, lazy, unpopular, or depressed.
What we may not realize is that when our kids are given the freedom to escape from their busy lives, even for as little as a few minutes a day, they begin to develop more insight into who they are as a person. In fact, according to science-backed studies, inserting a healthy amount of solitude into an over-stuffed schedule can actually prove beneficial to our kids’ emotional and mental health.
As far as my son is concerned, he now spends far more time with his friends on weekends, although it was a transition he made at his pace, not mine. Looking back, I’ve realized that he gained far more from being alone than he ever could have from being in a crowd.
So, before you begin worrying that your child is spending too much time alone, here are a few reasons why learning to enjoy solitude may be the absolute best thing your teen can do for themselves.
They Become More In Tune with Who They Are
Teens crave privacy. In fact, their need for privacy isn’t just normal, it’s necessary. Dr. Peter Marshall, child psychologist and author of “Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young,” claims that privacy and alone time is important for teens partly because they need to separate. “Although it’s tempting to think they’re just goofing off when they’re alone, they’re actually spending a large part of their time thinking about things, trying to figure out who they are and who they want to become.” Teenagers have a lot of growing up to do and they need the space to do it.
They Pursue Interests They’re Passionate About
One of the benefits of spending time alone is that it gives kids the freedom to do what they want to do. No compromising, no discussion, no negotiating – it’s their choice. It also gives them a chance to think about what motivates them, what they’re passionate about and what interests them which means they can dream, ponder and create in a way they never could if they were constantly surrounded by others.
They Become More Independent
In today’s fast-paced world of instant messaging where everyone knows everything about everyone else in a matter of seconds, stepping away from the social media hype and the constant barrage of information and spending time alone fosters confidence and, in turn, independence. Kids who learn to be by themselves don’t feel uneasy, restless or anxious when they’re alone – in fact, they relish the autonomy.
They Don’t Rely on Validation from Others
When kids spend time alone with their own thoughts they begin to develop a greater understanding of who they are by tapping into their emotions. Through self-reflection, they learn what makes them happy, sad, frustrated, etc., and in turn, they tend to become more content with who they are and rely less on validation from others to make them feel fulfilled or worthy. They’re not drawn into the never-ending desire to be accepted, to fit in or to be in the cool crowd and they don’t need the constant validation of likes, hearts or thumbs ups to feel good about themselves.
It Gives Them Time to Recharge
Being constantly busy and surrounded by other people every moment of the day can be mentally exhausting. Spending time alone doing what they enjoy gives teenagers the time they need to re-energize after a long day. In fact, Lea Waters, psychologist and author of the book “The Strength Switch,” said kid’s brains are like computers. “It’s a little bit like if you have too many programs running on your computer. Your computer starts to slow down. When you shut those programs down, the computer speeds up again.” Just like computers need to reboot, so do kids.
They Became More Productive
Of course, being around a group of people has its share of advantages. But, interacting with others without giving yourself time to be alone takes away from your productivity. When teens spend time alone it gives them a chance to clear their mind and focus their undivided attention on things they have to get done like homework and studying. And, even if they’re not productive outwardly, alone time gives them the opportunity to productively think, problem-solve and reflect.
They Learn to Accept and Appreciate Being Alone
Quite often when teenagers spend time alone it’s viewed negatively. But, the fact is teenagers who learn to accept and enjoy solitude in their life actually begin to crave the benefits that accompany it. According to Kelley Kitley, psychotherapist and owner of Serendipitous Psychotherapy in Chicago, “Developing the capacity to be alone has promising side effects including increased self and social awareness, clarity, problem-solving, empathy for self and others, peace, calm and safety.”
They Choose Their Friends Wisely
When you’re comfortable with yourself and the idea of being alone you tend to choose who you spend your time with far more wisely. Kids who get to know themselves through self-reflection have less tolerance for drama, games, and gossip and they have greater strength to walk away from it. They know who they are, they appreciate the peace in their life and they’re not afraid to step away from stress when life becomes unnecessarily complicated.
Of course, being alone doesn’t mean our kids should isolate themselves from the rest of the world; no one can argue with the importance of satisfying and deep relationships. But, sometimes the noise of the outside world has a way of cluttering our mind. Our kid’s emotional well-being relies on their ability to break free from the noise, feel comfortable with themselves, in their autonomy and to learn to like themselves in order to grow emotionally and feel confident. If they’re continually busy and surrounded by people every moment of the day, they’ll never have the chance to get to know themselves beyond the surface.
Those who fly solo have the strongest wings.
In some cases, kids who spend an inordinate amount of time alone could be suffering from anxiety or depression. Keep the lines of communication open with your child, know the signs of depression and seek proper care if you suspect an issue.