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What to do when your teen wants to be alone all of the time

Many parents have had this experience - your previously sociable, cheerful child now seems to always want to be in their room. They turn down family dinner and game night. And more concerning - they don’t seem to hang out with any of their friends anymore.  

Watching your teen isolate and retreat into their own world is worrisome to most parents. It can be hard to know what is a normal teen desire for privacy and an independent life versus when that behavior escalates to isolation or loneliness. This guide will cover when spending time alone is normal and when to worry - as well as help you understand what might be behind your teen’s isolation and how you can help.

At Joon, we provide therapy to 13–26 year olds every day. So we understand what’s typical teen stuff versus when to worry—we can help.

Amy Mezulis, PhD
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
,
Co-Founder & Chief Clinical Officer

Understanding teenage isolation.

What is normal privacy-seeking?

Developmentally, teens are at a stage where they are seeking more independence from parents. They are also in the midst of identity development - trying to figure out who they are. The typical teen these days also has a very busy schedule of school, sports or extracurriculars, homework, and their social life. 

Given all these normal teen milestones, it is typical that teens want to spend more time alone than they did when they were younger. That can look like more time in their room, with their headphones on, or on their phones. These can be important and appropriate opportunities for them to be private. As long as their mood seems about the same, their grades are good, they are keeping up with classes and activities, and seem socially connected, you probably don’t need to worry.

What does isolation look like?

Isolation looks like spending a lot of time alone without evidence of other healthy social relationships and interactions. It may look like refusing to come to family dinner or events although there is nothing else interfering (homework, social events). It may look like limited or even no social interactions with peers, even online ones. It may look like withdrawing from activities such as sports or extracurriculars. When your teen is doing little else except being alone, it may be time to worry.

Is it time to get support for your 13-26 year old? We’re here to help.

Why would my teen want to be alone all of the time?

There may be many underlying causes of teen isolation. One is an underlying mental health problem, such as depression or social anxiety. When teens feel down or anxious, they often don’t have the energy or interest to socialize or find that these interactions make them too anxious. When you make suggestions for engaging with peers and they repeatedly say “I don’t want to” or “I wouldn’t like that”, that can be a sign of underlying depression or fears about being socially awkward in that situation.

Another reason that teens isolate is disruptions in their social networks. Friendship groups shift often in adolescence, and teens may find themselves without a reliable friend group from time to time. These may be relatively normal shifts in friendship groups that resolve over time. However, your teen may have experienced bullying or peer victimization and is being excluded from social groups. These can be very difficult experiences that parents may need to help their teen cope with. 

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What to do when your teen wants to be alone all of the time

Parents play a critical role is supporting their isolating teen.

Check Your Expectations

As noted above, some amount of privacy-seeking is normal and most teens choose to spend more time alone or with friends than with family as they get older. Being in their room may not necessarily be “isolating” if they are interacting with peers or classmates online. They may also legitimately need rest and down time given busy lives. 

One thing parents can do is make sure to have reasonable expectations for how much time your teen spends with the family or out of their room. Check in with your teen to see if they are getting enough rest, down time, and alone time before placing expectations on them for family time. One thing that many families find work as teens get older is having set family expectations - for example, family dinners on certain nights of the week or a weekly family game or movie night. That can help ensure a balance between family time and alone time in these complex teen years.

Talk to Your Teen

Plan a time to check in with your teen about how they are doing. Gently ask about things you’re worried about; express your concerns about how much time they are spending alone. Ask how their mood is. Check in on their social situation - gently inquire who they spend time with at school, online, or outside of school. Ask about their friend group, and consider asking explicitly if anything happened to change their social situation - such as bullying, exclusion, or a conflict with their peers. If their isolation is a result of mental health problems or peer struggles, understanding that underlying cause is key to helping them re-engage.

Set Small Goals

If after all of this - evaluating your expectations, respecting a valid need for alone time, and checking in about mood and friendships - you feel like your teen needs support in re-engaging with peers or family, consider setting small goals for increasing social interaction. Ideas include:

  1. Scheduling family activities around things they enjoy doing - letting them pick a movie or game for family night, or plan an outing that they enjoy.
  2. Setting an expectation for attending family meals.
  3. Help them brainstorm ways to get involved in a school or community activity. Consider school clubs, community volunteering, and even a parttime job. For teens who struggle with social anxiety, peer or school activities might be too difficult at first but they may be open to volunteering or working. Anything that gets your teen out into the world interacting with others is a step in the right direction. 

Get Your Teen Some Help

If the above doesn’t seem to work and you continue to be worried about your teen’s isolation, consider getting them some professional help. A therapist can help understand what may be causing the social isolation, and can help your teen build the skills they need to branch out socially.

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Meet our licensed therapists, skilled in evidence-based methods and just as diverse as the teens they support.

Therapy works for teens who are socially isolating

Therapy can be extremely beneficial for teens who are socially isolating. Therapists are experts in getting to the bottom of what is causing their isolation - helping to untangle issues like depression or anxiety from peer conflict, bullying, or social exclusion. And therapy can help support your teen in making changes in their life to improve mood and social functioning.

How Do I Find a Therapist for My Teen?

Finding a therapist who specializes in providing evidence-based care to teens is ideal. Therapy at Joon incorporates one-on-one therapy with a qualified specialist with skill building on a custom mobile app. Self-isolating is one of the most commonly treated symptoms at Joon, and our experienced therapists are ready to help your teen.

You can read more about our latest data on the effectiveness of Joon for treating 13-26 year olds.

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