Ep 271: Navigating the Teen Loneliness Epidemic

Simone Heng, author of "Let's Talk About Loneliness," joins us to explain why loneliness is reaching epidemic levels among teens, how it rewires the teenage brain, and what steps we can take as parents to help our kids reset and relate.

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Full Show Notes

Loneliness is reaching epidemic levels among today's teenagers. Studies show teens are lonelier than any other generation, with 10 out of 11 feelings of loneliness. As kids withdraw socially, they get caught in a negative feedback loop where loneliness leads to more loneliness.

How can we help pull teens out of this dangerous downward spiral? How can we raise kids equipped for meaningful human connections when devices and social media threaten to replace in-person relating?

This week we’re exploring the teenage loneliness crisis, why it’s happening, and what we can do about it. We’re joined by Simone Heng, author of the new book “Let’s Talk About Loneliness.”

Simone is a speaker and former broadcaster focused on human connection. She’s here to explain why loneliness can be so devastating to the developing teenage brain, how teens end up self-isolating, and what small steps we can take to foster more connectivity at home and beyond.

Why Loneliness Rewires the Teenage Brain

Loneliness isn’t just an emotional experience – it changes the actual structure and functioning of the brain, explains Simone. When we don’t get enough in-person interaction, our brains downgrade the areas meant for processing social cues and relating to others.

Simone describes how chronic stress from loneliness keeps our body in fight-or-flight mode, releasing excess adrenaline and cortisol. This is meant to motivate us to go out and connect. But instead, lonely teens withdraw even further, caught in a vicious cycle.

The overloaded stress response starts to dampen teen’s immune systems, reduce cognition, and make them more prone to disorders later on. At a time when kids need to be developing social skills, loneliness causes their abilities atrophy.

Simone and I discuss how this epidemic of disconnection is intertwined with the digital age, where teens derive a false sense of “connection” from screens and devices. She explains why online interaction will never truly satisfy our brain’s hardwired need for in-person relating.

Escaping the Downward Spiral

The solution for loneliness isn’t one-size-fits-all, explains Simone. Because each teen’s stress response system functions differently, they need personalized strategies for resetting their body to healthy baseline functioning.

Simone suggests getting teen’s cortisol levels tested to find out specifics on their stress response. She then offers individualized nutrition plans, sleep recommendations, and more tailored support. General tips include getting teens outdoors, helping them identify and connect with their values, and limiting time online.

An important step is also examining our own stress, says Simone. Kids pick up on parents’ tension, so we have to model self-care, healthy relating, and good boundaries around technology use.

Fostering Human Connection at Home

When teens isolate in their rooms, it can seem impossible to draw them out. But Simone suggests reframing device use as a privilege to be earned through family connection.

She gives examples like asking teens to put phones away during parts of family dinners or outings. We can challenge teens to go on “silent walks” without headphones, and actually engage with the people they pass. We can also prompt them to observe social dynamics when out together, almost as field research rather than always defaulting to screens.

With some creativity and commitment to disconnecting from devices, we can develop little rituals of relating that help fulfill our human need for community, says Simone. We just have to be willing to model it ourselves.

Additional topics covered:
  • The rise of social anxiety in youth
  • Why teens hold friends to impossible standards
  • The importance of eye contact & micro-connections
  • How to balance social media use
  • The power of humility & apology
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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Simone Heng
Simone Heng
Simone Heng is a human connection specialist and former international broadcaster for the likes of Virgin Radio Dubai, HBO Asia and CNBC among others. With over 15 years experience as a communicator on-air, on stage and one-on-one in different countries, connection has always been her life’s work. As a speaker, Simone inspires people to connect in a world thirsty for connection. She has spoken to thousands and often for Fortune 500 organisations like Google, L’Oreal, Bytedance, Salesforce, SAP, TEDx, The United Nations and many more. Simone and her work have been featured in CNN, Vogue, Simone Heng is based and was born in Singapore but has also studied in Switzerland, was raised in Australia and worked in the United Arab Emirates. She has a Communications and Cultural Studies degree from Curtin University of Technology.
Ep 271: Navigating the Teen Loneliness Epidemic
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