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Generation Isolation: Post pandemic young people retreating to their bedrooms 

7th November 2022 by OnSide
  • Over half of young people spend most of their free time in their bedrooms. 
  • Almost 1 million young people spend most of their free time alone. 
  • Two in five (41%) of young people don’t have opportunities to meet new people or make friends. 
  • Youth clubs help young people make new friends, develop new skills and build resilience. 

Today we’ve published a major new study into the social lives of children and young people aged 11-18 in England, which shows that young people are navigating a world outside of school that is increasingly isolated and home-based, with limited opportunities for face-to-face socialising, making new friends or meeting people in person.  

Generation Isolation finds that one in five young people (19%) in England spend most of their free time alone – thats almost a million young people (988,000) living isolated lives*. Only 13% said that they spent most of their free time in person with their friends. And despite common misconceptions around how young people spend their time, the reality is that 77% of young people spend most of their time at home with over half of young people surveyed (51%) spending most of their free time in their bedroom whilst just 1% spend most of their time hanging out on the street.  

Our survey of 5,078 11-to-18 year olds published in partnership with YouGov, builds a picture of young people struggling to socialise away from screens with 73% of young people surveyed spending most of their free time on screens (watching streamed content like Netflix/YouTube, gaming, spending time on their phone or watching tv). Over half of young people (57%) say they are watching more streamed content now than before the Covid-19 lockdown; more than one third (37%) of young people say they are doing more gaming now than before the Covid-19 pandemic; and 32% are watching more TV now. Playing computer games is the most time-consuming leisure time activity for young people with 25% spending most of their free time outside school doing this, followed by watching streamed content (22%) and using their phones (21%).  

Generation Isolation shows that youth clubs play a vital role in enabling young people to build rich social lives, develop skills and build resilience. 81% of young people that currently attend a youth centre say it has made a positive difference on their lives and 75% of that same group say it has given them new skills. Making new friends is the most popular reason for young people to attend youth centres with 31% of people who said that youth centres have had a positive difference on their life citing this. Yet the report also highlights the lack of widespread opportunity to gain these benefits, with just 8% of young people surveyed currently attending a youth centre. 

The charity, which develops state-of-the-art youth centres called Youth Zones in some of the countrys most disadvantaged areas, is calling for every young person to have access to high quality youth centres to help them build rich social connections, achieve their potential and develop into happy, healthy thriving adults. 

Other key Generation Isolation findings include: 

  • two in five (41%) of young people do not have opportunities to meet new people or make friends beyond their usual group of friends (by contrast, young people who currently attend youth centres have far greater social connections with 69% of young people in this group saying they have lots of opportunities to make new friends).  
  • Over half (56%) of 11- to 18-year-olds surveyed identified as having high to very high levels of anxiety** 
  • One fifth of young people (20%) do not have opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity outside of school. 
  • More than a quarter (26%) say they do not have a safe space where they feel belonging.  
  • Over a fifth (22%) don’t feel able to manage their health and wellbeing. 
  • 40% said they did not have a trusted adult they can talk to outside of their immediate family – that could be as many as 2 million young people without an adult they can turn to for support and advice*. 
  • Over a quarter (26%) of young people are reading for enjoyment less now than they did before the pandemic. Activity based trips and days out are also on the decline with 28% of those surveyed saying they do this less now then pre pandemic. 

Commenting on the findings our Chief Executive Kathryn Morley said:

“Too many young people are living isolated lives, increasingly withdrawing into their bedrooms without the support from trusted adults. While online communication is important and has some benefits, its dominance means young people are missing out on the face-to-face interactions that build social skills, confidence, self-esteem, resilience and empathy. We cannot watch an entire generation of young people sleepwalking into social isolation and not develop the qualities that are necessary for mental wellbeing and that lay the foundations for them to thrive into adulthood. With pupils spending 85% of their lives outside of school, the real world has to be as enticing as the virtual one. Youth centres are key to that, helping young people develop and build rich social lives, in safe spaces designed to support them.” 

Gershom Clarke, Head of Youth Work at Future, Barking and Dagenham’s Youth Zone, said:

“The young people walking into our youth centre today are less confident to make their own decisions or try new activities and there is clearly a correlation between this and the amount of time they are spending at home alone. Real life interaction is vital so young people gain the confidence to try new things. I have seen a young person go in just 5 weeks from being unable to speak in front of others, to performing  at a talent show to an audience of 60 parents, carers and friends. That’s the power of youth centres and support from trusted youth workers and we need many more young people to have these opportunities.”  

Benjamin Cunliffe, 16 attends Wigan Youth Zone, he said:

Earlier this year I found I was spending more and more time gaming at home. Id spend between five and 10 hours a day on console games like Thief and Rocket League. On some of the games Ive logged more than 1,000 hours. I didnt have any energy for socializing, I couldn’t be bothered going out and found I felt angry and frustrated. So  I started attending sessions at Wigan Youth Zone, mostly playing sports with my friends. Volleyball, football and rock climbing are my favourites. I felt happier and more optimistic after being there and gaming was beginning to feel boring in comparison. Im only gaming a couple of times a month now and Im at the Youth Zone most days. My mental health is much better; Im not focused on the bad things anymore, I think much more positively and I feel just naturally happy.” 

To read the full Generation Isolation report visit: www.onsideyouthzones.org/generationisolation

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