Adolescence is widely perceived to be a time of building social skills, but just as important during those formative years is learning to spend time alone, says a Brock University education expert.
How teenagers treat themselves during the time they spend alone, whether engaging in a hobby like reading or scrolling social media, is just as important as learning how to have healthy relationships with others, says Sandra Bosacki, Professor in the Faculty of Education and Director of Brock’s Theory of Mind in Education (ToME) Lab.
“Social skills are crucial life skills that help us talk kindly to friends, initiate conversations, get along with others and treat other with respect,” she says. “We need youth to apply these life skills to themselves and learn solitude skills so that they can be their own best friend and enjoy spending time with themselves.”
Past studies show that positive emotion or mental state talk tends to strengthen social bonds. Building on this research, Bosacki’s team is exploring whether adolescents’ positive emotion self-talk can strengthen their bond or connection with themselves.
Bosacki is leading an ongoing Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded study on adolescents’ preferences for time spent alone. The project’s current phase is focused on how learning healthy solitude skills like self-compassion and positive self-talk can boost well-being.
Positive self-talk and listening to oneself are important coping skills for people of all ages, but are particularly important for young people, Bosacki says. Feelings of self-consciousness and social pressures tend to increase during adolescence, making teenagers more sensitive to others’ judgment and influencing how they think and feel about themselves.
“When a teen feels safe and secure in their space of solitude, they will be able to think more clearly and feel calm about challenges in their daily life,” Bosacki says, adding that some research on bullying and aggression shows children who are more at peace with themselves are less likely to be aggressive with others.
“We need to help adolescents learn how to savour instead of fear solitude and encourage them to make wise decisions about how they spend time alone to support their mental health and emotional well-being,” she says.
Bosacki’s advice for parents, educators and caregivers who want to help youth learn strong solitude skills is to monitor how they spend their time alone and to check in with support and strategies when needed. For example, parents and teachers could share and model healthy and constructive ways in which they spend their time alone.
“Children often learn best by watching what you do,” Bosacki says. “I think it’s important to be a good role model and demonstrate constructive solitude skills.”
Bosacki is still looking for study participants, aged 11 to 18, who will receive resources and have the opportunity to learn strategies and skills for maximizing their time alone. Long term, the research team hopes the project will lead to the creation of educational materials that support the development of solitude and self-skills in young people.
Research sessions will take place on Microsoft Teams and include questionnaires and computerized tasks. The sessions will take about one hour and can be completed at home on participants’ personal computers with internet access. Participants will receive a $20 Amazon gift card as a thank-you for taking part.