Young adults are lonely. How do we love them better?

Young adults are lonely.

Among the loneliest people in the world are American young adults, both male and female, between the ages of 18 and 22, according to studies published in a recent Time Magazine article*.


This data may seem surprising, since this age demographic is highly connected on social media, intensely sought after in advertising, and seem to have diverse and growing communities. But most young people are struggling to feel fully accepted and connected.

We’ve recently overheard young adults describing the anxiety and frustration they feel every time a well-meaning adult asks, “What are you doing with your life?”

So we asked why these questions about future plans create stress.

One young woman shared candidly that constant questions about her future plans create pressure for her to have everything figured out before she really knows what the future holds. She fears if her answer isn’t “impressive enough” or she tells the truth - that she isn’t sure yet - she will be subjected to advice about what she “should” do.

She divulged further that this isn’t an unwarranted fear. It has happened over and over again. Ever since her senior year, she has heard that dreaded question at the start of countless conversations with neighbors, friends and family members, followed by long, uninvited speeches and opinions that leave her overwhelmed and paralyzed.

How can we love them better?

The truth is, no one knows what the future holds. But young adults, especially, are still learning who they are and how to bring their best gifts to the world. The last thing they need is pressure to have it all figured out at a time when they are still trying to learn how to become adults without drowning in higher education debt.

Another high school senior faced a similar scenario when a medical professional turned a routine exam into an uninvited speech expressing his bold thoughts on her grades and educational options after high school. His “pep talk” about the importance of her senior year sent her spiraling into self-doubt and fear of student loan debt.

How can we, as a community, ask questions that foster connection instead of increasing a young person’s anxieties about the future? Let’s consider taking cues from other cultures and engaging our young adults in questions that take the emphasis off someone’s achievements and future, and instead focus on their well-being here and now.

Here are some ideas for more thoughtful questions we can ask:

  • What is bringing you joy?

  • What dreams do you have right now? Are you able to pursue them?

  • Who are your closest friends right now, and are you getting enough time with them?

  • Do you feel supported in life right now? And how can I support you?

  • What kinds of things do you do that make you come alive? Are you finding time to do those things?

Join the conversation here.

To every young adult and everyone who cares about someone in this age demo, let’s talk about what are you finding to be helpful. Let’s discuss your questions and ideas so we can learn from each other how to love the next generation of thought leaders in ways that are meaningful to them.

*Data source: Time Magazine article here.

Emily SutherlandComment