Effects of Isolation and Loneliness in Children
Truth from God’s Word and clinical pyschology
by Deandra Comer, MA
New Struggles in A Pandemic
Covid-19 has brought about many new experiences and struggles throughout our world. As a result of Corona Virus, most people have experienced some type of quarantine. With any level of quarantine there is an increase in the potential for loneliness and social isolation. Loneliness is defined by a chronic distressful mental state in which a person feels rejected and estranged from peers and is starved for emotional intimacy found in relationships. By definition social isolation is a lack of social contact and a small network size (Smith, 2018). Although in recent months it has been quite the topic of conversation and concerns, social isolation is nothing new. It can be traced back to biblical times with the creation of people.
Social isolation can be traced back to biblical times
Three chapters into Genesis we see isolation play a role in Adam’s life. Adam noticed that he is the only being who does not have a partner. In a perfect world the only thing that was not good was that Adam was alone. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah experienced life with no spouse and no family. He was removed from all social events and was hated by society. Though these men felt the burden and hardship of isolation that was not the end of the story. God gave Eve to Adam. Jeremiah was told not to marry and have kids, but God provided an unlikely friend in an Ethiopian slave. Social isolation and loneliness are not the end of the story for kids who are struggling with the COVID 19 pandemic either. Humans are social beings and are made with a desire for social interaction (Mund, 2019). Loneliness and isolation have deep effects on the physical, neural, psychological, cognitive, and social development of children, but there are ways to lessen the long-term effects.
Psychosocial Deprivation & Neuroticism
Only in the last thirty years has loneliness in childhood been researched. Until recently, it was believed that children could not experience the emotion of loneliness. In studies post 1980’s it is believed that children can experience loneliness and it can have lasting impacts on their lives. In one study, preschool children were able to accurately identify the difference between loneliness and solitude. Two thirds of elementary age children admit to having felt lonely or isolated at some point during the school day (Rokach, 2019). Children do experience loneliness and social isolation. The psychosocial deprivation has effects on the brain, which effect the psychosocial development. (Young, 2017). Interactions with peer groups are imperative in developing identity support in the early developmental stages (Loades, 2020).
Social isolation throughout the early developmental stages is believed to be a key contributor to neuroticism. Neuroticism is one of the fundamental domains of general personality included in the five-factor model. Individuals who score high in neuroticism are more likely to experience an anxious or negative emotional state. The five personality traits mentioned in the five-factor model include neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Elevated levels of isolation correlate with higher levels of neuroticism and decreased levels of extroversion and agreeableness. When a social isolation period is significant for a child, neuroticism is prevalent fifteen years later, while they experience lower levels of extroversion and conscientiousness. A child who scores high on neuroticism experiences feelings such as; anxiety, worry, anger, fear, frustration, jealousy, envy, guilt, depressed mood, and loneliness (Mund, 2019).
Once the isolation period is over and social interaction is expected again children have an increase in social anxieties.
Long Term Effects
Loneliness and social isolation lead to future mental health issues for a child up to nine years later. It has a strong association with depression. Loosing links to other people and access to other peoples lives leaves one feeling lonely. Not feeling connected to other people, plus the feeling of exclusion that comes from isolation can lead to depression. Along with depression the lack of social interaction in a child’s development years leads to an increase in anxiety. Once the isolation period is over and social interaction is expected again children have an increase in social anxieties. They are fearful of social situations, such as school, extra curricular activities, and play dates. For some children isolation can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Interaction with one’s peers is necessary for identity support during development. Children who are not around other children struggle with low self esteem because of the lack of identity support (Loades, 2020).
The home that a child is raised in is the most influential and critical piece in how a child will grow up.
Interaction Patterns at Home
A period of increased loneliness and social isolation does not have to be detrimental to a child’s psychosocial and emotionally development. The home that a child is raised in is the most influential and critical piece in how a child will grow up. The interaction patterns of a family unit are the primary place a child develops their interpersonal and psychosocial skills. A child who grows up in a warm, caring, loving, stable home who develop secure relationships amongst their family members is better prepared for developing secure relationships among their peers outside of the home. A cohesive family unit is related to a child’s well being (Rokach, 2019). An encouraging home life is crucial for social development during the social isolation and quarantine associated with COVID-19. On the contrary, a child who is repeatedly encountering an insensitive and discouraging caregiver at home will be more prone to loneliness outside of the home. The emotional unavailability of a child’s caregivers while they are socially isolated from their peers will lead to long term social struggles outside of the home (Rokach, 2019).
Helping with Socialization
During this COVID-19 pandemic while children are more socially isolated than normal, caregivers can encourage behaviors to help with socialization. Maintaining structure will allow a child to flourish at home, and be prepared, for an easier transition when the quarantine phase is over. While there are some negative connotations with encouraging internet relationships while social isolation is an issue, internet relationships are crucial. Helping children to stay connected with peers through the internet allows them to practice and continue growing in their social skills. Caregivers can help children experience social rewards. This will continue to foster a positive sense of well-being for the child. Finally, making sure the child feels a sense of belonging in the family unit is crucial. Encouraging and rewarding their role in the family helps develop their positive self worth when building relationships outside of the family (Loades, 2020).
God had more for Adam, Jeremiah, and countless other biblical personalities. He has more for the children who are struggling for social interaction during Covid-19.
God Will Provide
While COVID-19 has caused children to quarantine and change their social norms, it does not have to lead to social isolation and loneliness. Children are in an important time for their social development and caregivers can help to ensure a child is developing positive psychosocial skills. Social relationships happen with family units in the home and through the internet, telephones, etc. outside of the home during quarantine. While depression, anxiety, mood disorders, worry, fear, and guilt can all be a result of social isolation they do not have to be. God had more for Adam, Jeremiah, and countless other biblical personalities. He has more for the children who are struggling for social interaction during Covid-19. He provided Eve for Adam. He provided an Ethiopian Eunuch for Jeremiah. God will provide for His children’s social needs as well.
Loades, Maria Elizabeth et al. “Rapid Systematic Review: The Impact of Social Isolation and Loneliness on the Mental Health of Children and Adolescents in the Context of COVID-19.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2020): n. pag. Web.
Mund, M., & Neyer, F. J. (2019). Loneliness effects on personality. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 43(2), 136–146. https://doi.org/10.1177/0165025418800224
Rokach, A. (2019). The psychological journey to and from loneliness: Development, causes, and effects of social and emotional isolation. London: Academic Press.
Smith, Samuel G et al. “Social Isolation, Health Literacy, and Mortality Risk: Findings from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.” Health psychology.37.2 (2018): 160–169. Web.
Young, A., Luyster, R. J., Fox, N. A., Zeanah, C. H., & Nelson, C. A. (2017). The effects of early institutionalization on emotional face processing: Evidence for sparing via an experience‐dependent mechanism. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 35(3), 439-453. doi:10.1111/bjdp.12185