Many teens are gearing up for prom, and for some, that includes asking a date to the dance through elaborate promposals.
But not every student will be asked to the big dance. For some students, watching their peers get asked to prom may make them feel lonely.
Parents and high school teachers can consider the following advice when helping teens deal with loneliness during prom season and throughout the year.
1. Teens take cues from adults on how to deal with loneliness. Parents should model for their kids how they deal with loneliness instead of sharing stories about what happened to them in high school, says Julie Carney, a licensed clinical social worker at Wood River High School in Hailey, Idaho.
Perhaps parents like to go for a walk when they feel lonely – they could share that with their child, she says.
Parents should know being a loner isn’t necessarily a bad thing either – everyone is different, Carney says. “Be careful not to make them feel like there is something wrong with them, like there is something weird.”
If parents are concerned their child is a loner, they could connect their teen with grandparents, extended family members, coaches or other trusted adults they could develop a relationship with, she says.
Like parents, teachers should model positive relationships and how to treat other people, she says. “The more that staff shows that they are not lonely and how they all get along and the morale of the staff,” can be more valuable than an assembly or similar presentation, she says.
2. High school teachers can reach out to students who they are concerned about. Hopefully, educators already have relationships developed with their students. Then, if educators know a student is lonely, they can gently address the issue with him or her, says Carney.
It may be appropriate for teachers to share their own story of how they might have felt alone once and how they overcame it, Carney says. Teachers might also talk about a similar situation that a former student may have been in and how they addressed the issue, she says.
The goal is to make students feel welcome, she says. A teacher could invite a student they are concerned about to lunch in their room with other students or to a club meeting they host, she says.
If teachers see a student sitting alone, they should ask how they are doing and do whatever they can do to include him or her, she says. Sometimes, teachers know students who like to reach out to other students, so connecting those leaders with lonely students could be helpful. Some schools have a program to connect these students, she says.
3. Teachers and parents can seek guidance from others. If teachers are concerned about a student, it’s important for them to notify a school counselor or social worker, Carney says. And the student doesn’t have to be in an immediate crisis.
These professionals don’t see students on a daily basis, she says, so it can helpful to know what students they should have on their radar to check up on during their next scheduled meeting.
Carney says parents should talk to other parents. “You don’t want to feel isolated as a parent, like you’re the only one who has gone through this,” Carney says.
They shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to school counselors or social workers either, she says.
Sometimes teens go through existential crises – where they realize that are born alone and will die alone, she says. But going through these phases and periods of loneliness is normal, she says.