Question: My child wants to spend increasing amounts of time alone. Should I be concerned?
Answer: Your child's increasing desire to be alone is most likely developmentally normal and healthy. You're probably concerned, however, because we tend to think of the tween and adolescent years as a time when friends become increasingly important. Kids do value peers and social outlets more as they age, but they simultaneously desire more alone time as they get older. In fact, compared to fifth graders, seventh graders spend about 50 percent more time alone.
It makes sense that tweens would want to spend more time alone as they approach adolescence. For one, their burgeoning cognitive capabilities enable them to have more vivid and compelling internal worlds. That is, they have the ability to entertain themselves with their own thoughts much more than they did when they were younger. During the tween years they also begin to experience adolescent egocentrism. This thought pattern includes the belief that their thoughts are unique and no one else is like them. This belief-called the personal fable-makes many kids feel fascinated with themselves and like they are unable to fully relate with others. Thus alone time becomes increasingly enjoyable as well as necessary.
All in all, it's likely that your child's increasing desire for alone time is normal. Kids who spend a moderate amount of time alone have healthier psychological and social outcomes than those who spend little time by themselves. Too much time alone, however, can be problematic, leading to feelings of loneliness and possibly depression. Figuring out how much alone time is too much for your child can be difficult. If you have concerns, consult your child's doctor or your school's mental health professional.
Furman, Wyndol, McDunn, Christine, and Young, Brennan. The Role of Peer and Romantic Relationships in Adolescent Affective Development. In N. B. Allen & L. Sheeber (Eds.) Adolescent emotional development and the emergence of depressive disorders. 2008. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.