American teens aren’t nearly as lonely as their parents were, study says

Story highlights

Students feel less lonely but have fewer friends, study says

Female college students see the biggest decline in loneliness.

Researchers say people are "more individualistic ... have higher self-esteem"

CNN  — 

With growing concerns about loneliness among younger generations in modern society – in the land of Facebook-stalking, Snapchat-sending gadget-junkies – some experts now say despite being in technological isolation, American teenagers aren’t feeling quite as lonely as their parents were when they were teens.

A study published Monday in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows a modest decline in loneliness among American high school and college students through the years 1978 to 2009.

The researchers figured this out looking at data from several studies of high school and college students in the United States that examined teen attitudes and activities among this age group.

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It finds teenagers today are less empathetic. They are also less likely to join clubs and make fewer close friends than prior generations, but that doesn’t leave them feeling left out.

Young people today, the study says, are more independent. They have less need for feeling attached to a large group of friends. For example, in 1985, 10% of people reported they discussed important matters with no one; in 2004, 25% reported the same. At the same time, young people feel more confident about themselves. They are more independent and assertive.

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University of Queensland and Griffith University researchers suggest “extraversion and self-esteem, have increased over time.” That, they say, may play a big part in this overall decline.

Throughout history, “people become less dependent on their families and need more specialized skills, which could lead to less interest in social support and more self-sufficiency,” lead researcher David Clark wrote in a statement that went out with the study, “over time, people are more individualistic, more extroverted, and have higher self-esteem.”

The data showed female college students reported lower levels of loneliness than their male counterparts, although there were no big differences between male and female students in high school.

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White high school students reported lower loneliness than African-American students, Hispanic students and others.

With less physical contact, yet more electronic connections than other generations, technology may have shifted the type of connectedness this generation needs, at least to a point.

That’s what Kimmy Ogochukwu Diei thinks. As a senior at the University of Chicago, she has had social media around all her life and she believes it has made having friends and feeling connected to them easier in many ways. Friends are just a text or message away even when she chooses to be by herself to study or work.

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“Instead of me having to interact physically with my friends and contact them or run into them in order to get their attention and let them know how I’m doing, they can just contact me on Facebook or through email,” Ogochukwu Diei said. “It’s easier for me to say ‘Hey, I’m doing fine.’”

The only time she really feels isolated is “when I don’t have my phone with me or if it has died,” Ogochukwu Diei said. Then “I do feel very isolated.”