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How Gen Z Can Foster
Meaningful Connection

by The Foundation for Social Connection

February 29, 2024

It may surprise you that our most digitally connected generation is also the loneliest. However, the U.S. Surgeon General and other experts confirm youth and young adults are experiencing loneliness at especially alarming rates.

Read more implications of youth loneliness here.

  1. Nationally, 79% of Gen Z say they experience loneliness.

  2. Globally, 1 in 4 individuals aged 15-18 report feeling fairly or very lonely.

  3. Young adults are almost twice as likely to report experiencing loneliness compared to older adults.

  4. 63% of young adults experiencing loneliness also report significant anxiety or depression symptoms.

What the Data Tells Us

Of course, technology and social media play a part in this high rate of Gen Z loneliness. Increasingly, we have substituted real-life connection for passive and less meaningful online interactions. In fact, over the past 20 years, young adults have reduced in-person hangouts with friends from 150 minutes per day to a mere 40 minutes. In that same time period, the amount of time we spend isolated from others has increased by 24 hours per month. What might we be doing with all this time? Well, over one-third of young adults say they are “almost constantly” on social media.

That being said, these aren’t the only possible culprits. Young adulthood is a time of transition, and it can often be a difficult one. Youth may find themselves with more demanding responsibilities and greater independence. They may be outgrowing old relationships and having to form new ones. Some may even be moving away from home and living alone for the first time, requiring them to navigate unfamiliar social settings. Additionally, young adulthood often marks the first time someone may be diagnosed with mental health conditions or experience mental crises, which may be both a cause and consequence of loneliness.

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What can we do to protect ourselves against loneliness and navigate through these difficult times?

The answer lies in improving the three essential components of meaningful social connection - structure, function, and quality. In other words, it means cultivating a variety of relationships that support our different needs and have positive impacts on our life. Below are a few ways to do so.

Check in on others

Here’s a way to actually turn technology and social media into a tool for fostering connection. Go through your messages and friend lists to see who you haven’t talked to in a while. Reach out to those connections and see if they would be open to hanging out or catching up over Facetime. Even if that seems daunting or you feel too busy, you can always send a simple text letting them know you are thinking of them or there for support. These acts of compassion can help improve the well-being of everyone involved, as researchers have found prosocial behaviors can inspire others to return help and support. Further, research shows that frequently confiding in others can reduce our risk of becoming depressed by 15%.

Get involved in your community

Peer learning and mentoring are great opportunities to get involved in your campus community. This has proven to be effective in reducing loneliness and mental health problems as well as increasing academic achievement. Additionally, participating in volunteer activities available in your larger community can help instill a sense of belonging, connection, and purpose. Further, these opportunities develop important social skills that can help you in the classroom and beyond.

As the Surgeon General says in his 2023 advisory, “By taking small steps every day to strengthen our relationships, and by supporting community efforts to rebuild social connection, we can rise to meet this moment together.”

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