Loneliness is a subjective state of mind. What triggers lonely feelings in one person may not in another. Common triggers of tween loneliness include spending much more time alone than the tween needs and/or having fewer meaningful connections with peers and adults than needed. Whatever the cause, here are some of the effects loneliness can have on tweens.
Greater Risk of Depression
Many studies have found that tweens and teens who feel lonely also feel more depressed than their peers. This depression-loneliness relationship varies by gender. Boys and girls are equally likely to feel lonely, but by adolescence, girls are more likely than boys to experience depression. Given the connection between loneliness and depression, unexpectedly in one study boys tended to be lonelier than girls. The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
Less Emotionally Sensitive
Adolescents who feel lonely also appear to be less emotionally sensitive to those around them. Lonely tweens may not accurately read or respond to emotional and social cues. For instance, a tween who feels lonely may make sarcastic jokes at a friend's expense, even when that friend is obviously having a bad day. It remains unclear whether feeling lonely causes poor emotional sensitivity or the reverse. It's possible, as well, that both loneliness and lack of emotional sensitivity co-occur because they stem from some other source, such as a general deficit in social skills.
Have Poorer Quality Relationships
Finally, tweens and teens who report feeling lonely also demonstrate fewer strong and meaningful relationships in their lives. Certainly a lack of friendships could simply cause feelings of loneliness. It's possible, however, that tweens who are lonely may be misreading social cue and showing signs of depression, which can cause peers to withdraw from the individual. Whatever the root cause, lonely tweens do seem to be lacking in high-quality friendships.
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.