Nearly 70% of Girls Struggle With Loneliness, a New Survey Shows — Here’s What Parents Can Do

We’re in the midst of a loneliness epidemic, and it’s not only adults and teens who suffer. New research conducted by the Girl Scouts of the USA shows that most young girls feel lonely, too.

Survey responses from 1000 American girls ages 5 to 13 showed nearly 70 percent have experienced feelings of loneliness. And it only gets worse as they grow older: 64 percent of girls ages 5 to 7, 67 percent of girls ages 8 to 10, and 73 percent of those ages 11 to 13 said they’ve felt lonely.

More from SheKnows

“I definitely think we’re seeing an impact of the pandemic and the isolation that we all had to go through,” says Sarah Keating, vice president of girl and volunteer experience at Girl Scouts. “They missed out on some early experiences in building friendships and knowing how to interact out in the world. They didn’t have a chance to build up those social muscles.”

What’s more, all of us — adults and kids alike — so often turn to screens as a form of play and relaxation, points out Dr. Christine Crawford, MD, MPH, associate medical director of National Alliance on Mental Illness, which partners with Girl Scouts. Whether it looks like scrolling through TikTok, playing video games, or vegging out to Netflix, screen time can isolate us, “rather than going outside, engaging in new activities that require you to work with other people, to communicate with other people in real time, in real life,” Dr. Crawford says.

The impact of loneliness at a young age

We know from earlier research that loneliness can have an impact on self-esteem, and the Girl Scouts’ data backs that up, showing that a lack of confidence grows more common as girls get older and report more loneliness. While 86 percent of those aged 5 to 7 said they believed in their ability to “tackle challenges,” the numbers dropped to 80 percent in the 8 to 10 age range and even further down to 73 percent in the 11- to 13-year-olds.

“Loneliness is really a sign that things aren’t going well emotionally and socially, and that intervention is warranted before things evolve into a more serious mental health condition,” Dr. Crawford says. Notably, research on children and teens during the pandemic found that loneliness was associated with higher rates of depression and anxiety symptoms. 

Feeling a sense of connection is also critical for our social-emotional development, Dr. Crawford adds: “As young as 5, kids are really acquiring all the tools that they need in order to be emotionally strong and resilient adults, to know how to navigate this really complex world that we live in.”

How can you tell if your child is lonely?

The Child Mind Institute, an independent nonprofit focused on children’s mental health, points out that young children might not be able to articulate that they’re lonely. But some signs of loneliness could include making up imaginary friends, being clingy or misbehaving, acting timid, or crying more than usual for their age, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America.

Dr. Crawford tells caregivers to look out for changes in the way a child is functioning, like not engaging as much with family members, losing interest in team sports or play dates, or suddenly not wanting to go to school. “There’s nothing more painful than feeling lonely when you’re in a crowd of people,” she says. “And unfortunately, for a lot of kids who go to school, that’s a common experience.”

But rather than jumping to conclusions about a child’s loneliness, Dr. Crawford suggests asking them what they think is driving changes in their behavior. “Kids are quite insightful,” she says, adding that their answers can be helpful in determining the exact kinds of support and resources they might need.

Sharing openly about your own experiences of loneliness can also help your little ones better understand their own emotions, and make them more comfortable sharing their feelings with you. “The more time we can spend talking about feelings and acknowledging them as real and then figuring out how to turn the corner, the better,” Keating says.

What parents and caregivers can do to help lonely kids

If you suspect your child might be lonely—or they directly tell you as much—Dr. Crawford says one of the first steps is to start an open dialogue. She suggests asking questions like, “If you had things your way, how would things look differently in terms of feeling less lonely?” “What are things that you’ve wondered about doing so that you could feel more connected?” They may share ideas and solutions that you might not have thought about

Some options that Mental Health America recommends include signing your kids up for group classes, recreational sports, or faith-based events. You can also make a point of setting up regular time with their cousins or children of your own friends.

And, of course, organizations like Girl Scouts are designed specifically to encourage and support long-term friendships. Keating says the organization has put extra emphasis on mental health in the last few years, training volunteers on mental well-being and offering special mental wellness badges for grades 4 through 12.

More than anything, Keating wants to remind parents and caregivers not to let this kind of research get you down, or take it too hard if you do find out your child feels lonely. “You’re that support system for the kids in your life, helping kids understand how they’re feeling and giving them ways to work out of it,” she says. “There are actions that we can take, which is the silver lining here.”

Before you go, check out our favorite affordable mental health apps:


Best of SheKnows

Sign up for SheKnows' Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.