Intergenerational tech tensions: half of British teens believe tech makes them feel less lonely, but only a quarter of their parents agree

  • Traditional issues (money, trust, friendships and shyness) are the top causes of teenage loneliness rather than technology-led factors
  • 1 in 10 teenagers said that social media and the internet has made them feel unhappy about themselves but two thirds of teenagers (64%) have never had a negative experience when using technology
  • 70% of parents worry about their children’s use of tech, but only a minority (30%) of parents surveyed use protection controls and software
  • 41% of parents have never discussed loneliness with their teenagers so TalkTalk has partnered with Internet Matters to develop advice and support for parents on how to start a dialogue with young people on this sensitive topic

LONDON--()--Half of teens in the UK (48%) think that social media and the internet makes them feel less lonely while only a quarter (26%) of their parents agree. According to TalkTalk’s Teenage Loneliness and Technology Report, there is a stark divide within families over the role technology can play in either improving or worsening feelings of loneliness in teenagers.

The study, which looks into both parents and their own teenagers’ attitudes to technology and loneliness, interviewed more than 2,000 young people aged 13-16 years old and more than 2,000 parents of the same teenagers.

The study found teenagers were far more optimistic than their parents about the positive impact of technology. Half (51%) of 13-16 year olds said that during times when they have felt lonely, technology has also provided a solution to their loneliness: they have made new friends, received support and advice, and received positive comments while being online. However, worryingly of the teenagers that did feel lonely, just under a third (31%) admitted to not having discussed their feelings with anyone.

Startlingly, across the UK, parents felt lonelier than their teenage children – which may be impacting how they advise and talk to their children about the issue. 28% of parents said they felt lonely often, always or some of the time, compared to 21% of young people.

Traditional issues still driving youth loneliness

Notably, the top four causes of youth loneliness, according to both parents and teenagers, were issues relating to money, trust, friendships and shyness. This suggests that traditional economic and social issues are the main factors driving loneliness among teenagers, while digital technology-led issues linked to the online world contribute less.

The top four main contributors to teenage loneliness according to parents and teenagers:

             
    Main contributors to teenage loneliness   Teenagers   Parents
1   Not being able to take part in friends’ activities because they are too expensive   32%   31%
2   Not being able to talk openly with others   28%   22%
3   Not having friends that can be relied on   25%   25%
4   Prohibitive cost of gadgets and fashion   21%   18%

Tristia Harrison CEO of TalkTalk comments:I am heartened to see that technology can, in many cases, help tackle feelings of loneliness in young people. It is also clear that open and regular communication between parents and their teenagers on this topic cannot be underestimated.

“As CEO and a parent of teenage children, I’m proud that TalkTalk has a long history of leading efforts to ensure the internet is a safer place. But as the technology constantly evolves, it presents new issues and challenges. As an industry, we must continually reassess what more we can be doing to understand and mitigate online risks, so our young people have the best possible experience online.”

Parents don’t know how to engage with their teenagers’ tech experience

The report reveals that most parents (70%) worry about their teenagers’ use of technology. Yet over a third (37%) felt ill-equipped or are simply unsure how to help manage or navigate their teenagers’ tech and online use safely. This lack of confidence is leading to inaction among parents towards their teenagers’ safe use of the internet.

Surprisingly, despite parents’ concerns, the report found that:

  • 41% have never discussed feelings of loneliness with their teenage children
  • Over two thirds of parents (70%) do not use parent protection controls and software
  • 76% do not approve apps and websites before their children use them
  • 65% do not limit the hours their teenager spends using technology and social media

CEO of Internet Matters Carolyn Bunting said: "The research reiterates how teenagers don't differentiate between their online and offline world and they turn to devices to help them feel connected and supported.

"By being in tune with their child's digital life, parents can feel empowered to help them take advantage of all the opportunities that the online world has to offer.

"Having regular, open and honest conversations and getting to grips with the tech they're using, is the easiest way for parents to create an effective and positive online environment for their children."

Tech for good or bad?

Our report found that a third (36%) of teenagers said that they have experienced a time when technology has had a negative effect on them. Loneliness caused by not having many friends on social media was cited by 12% of teenagers.

The study however found that parents recognised the positive social impact technology and the internet could have on their teenage children. Two thirds (67%) of parents said that their teenage child had told them about positive experiences using technology – a figure that jumps to over three quarters (77%) according to young people themselves.

In addition, a third (33%) of parents said their teenagers’ use of technology and the internet had improved social skills, 27% believed it helped teenage children make friends and a further 19% said it helped their teenager overcome anxieties when talking to friends.

Dr Rebecca Nowland, Research Fellow University of Central Lancashire Faculty of Health and Well-Being, said: “The impacts of technology on loneliness may not be the same for each generation. New social technologies are important for young people to connect with their friends. The survey findings show that teenagers see social digital technologies as a way to reduce loneliness. Although, parents are able to see the positives of young people’s technology use, there is still a digital divide between the generations. Worries for parents centre on not feeling equipped or having sufficient knowledge to keep youth safe online.”

Call to action: TalkTalk is working on the following initiatives to help parents and young people harness the benefits of technology.

  • TalkTalk is working with Internet Matters to help guide parents keep their children safe online
  • Our parental filter, HomeSafe, allows parents to control what content their children access. The packaging on TalkTalk’s new routers’ (the Wi-Fi Hub) signposts to Internet Matters, reminding parents that support is available on online safety
  • TalkTalk has signed the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Employer Pledge on loneliness which is a statement of action to prevent loneliness at work for employees

The full Teenage Loneliness and Technology Report can be found here.

- ENDS –

Notes to editors

Methodology

Based on a survey of 2,005 parents and 2,005 of their children aged 13-16 in the UK carried out by Censuswide between March and April 2019. Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.

Media enquiries

TalkTalk’s spokesperson, CEO Tristia Harrison, is available for comment/ interview

About TalkTalk

TalkTalk is the UK’s leading value for money connectivity provider. It believes that simple, affordable, reliable and fair connectivity should be available to everyone.

Since entering the market in the early 2000s, it has a proud history as an innovative challenger brand. Today, it provides landline, broadband, TV and mobile services to over four million customers. It operates Britain’s biggest unbundled broadband network, covering 96% of the population, supplying services to consumers through the TalkTalk brand, to businesses through TalkTalk Business, and by wholesaling to resellers.

TalkTalk also has a long history of leading industry efforts to ensure the internet is a safer place for children. It is a founding member and a proud partner of Internet Matters, an organisation that provides information, support and advice for parents and carers across the UK about digital safety.

About Dr Rebecca Nowland

Dr Rebecca Nowland is a Research Fellow working in the Child and Family Health Research Group, referred to as SEaRCH (Supporting Evaluation and Research in Child and family Health) within the School of Nursing at the University of Central Lancashire. She is a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society as a Teacher and Researcher in Psychology. Rebecca’s research interests centre around childhood and adolescent mental health and well-being. She is particularly interested in the impact that mental well-being has on physical health and social cognition. Much of her research to date has examined in the influence of loneliness in children and young people on physical and mental health. Recent projects have involved examining the influence of social media on health and well-being in adolescents and social influences on self-harming and suicidal behaviour.

About Internet Matters

Internet Matters (internetmatters.org) is a not-for-profit, industry-funded members body that helps families stay safe online, providing resources for parents, carers and educational professionals. It was established in 2014 by BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media and its members include BBC, Google, Samsung, Three, Facebook, Huawei, ByteDance and Supercell. It is a member of the Executive Board of UKCIS (UK Council for Internet Safety) and an industry expert working with The Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying, founded by the Duke of Cambridge. It works with partners from across the industry, government and third sector to raise awareness and provide advice on the issues affecting children in the digital age, including cyberbullying, screen time, digital resilience, extreme content, privacy and exploitation.

Contacts

Instinctif Partners
talktalk@instinctifpartners.com
020 7457 2020

TalkTalk
Dafydd Wyn
Corporate Communications Manager
Dafydd.wyn@talktalkplc.com
020 3417 1862

Release Summary

TalkTalk’s Teenage Loneliness and Technology report examines both parents and their own teenagers’ attitudes towards technology and loneliness.

Contacts

Instinctif Partners
talktalk@instinctifpartners.com
020 7457 2020

TalkTalk
Dafydd Wyn
Corporate Communications Manager
Dafydd.wyn@talktalkplc.com
020 3417 1862