Adolescent Loneliness Assessment

Article excerpt

Feelings of loneliness are here considered as deficiencies in systems of interpersonal interaction. Weiss (1973) made a distinction between loneliness due to emotional isolation and loneliness due to social isolation. Emotional isolation appears in the absence of close emotional attachment whereas social isolation appears in the absence of an engaging social network. Relationship with parents and peers constitute two different social contexts in which loneliness develops. A study of loneliness in children and adolescents therefore distinguishes between loneliness due to relationship with parents (parent-related loneliness) and loneliness due to relationship with peers (peer-related loneliness) (Terrell-Deutsch, 1999).

Processes contributing to the onset of vulnerability to loneliness develop throughout late childhood and early adolescence in sensitive children. A pattern made up of social anxiety, lack of dominance, and social isolation seems to elicit peer rejection, negative self-perception, and an internalization of problems that includes loneliness (Rubin & Mills, 1991). There also is evidence that internalization of problems and maladaptive behavior such as withdrawal and submission in children and young adolescents are caused by a negative shame-inducing attribution style. This is probably due to a peculiar tendency to respond to negative social experiences by internalizing a long-standing negative self-image (Cash, 1995). When the child blames his own incompetence for any negative social experiences and the young adolescent attributes them either to his or her incompetence or lack of social prestige and nonacceptance by others, the end result is social withdrawal, depression, and lasting vulnerability to problem-internalization (Olweus, 1993).

Among such negative social experiences, we may include sudden and forced changes brought about by external causes, such as moving to a new home or to a different school. Most authors agree that adolescence is the most vulnerable stage in connection with these changes. On one hand, it entails separation from the previous peer group and, on the other, it requires joining a new, already existent group whose members usually enjoy picking on nonmembers. Exposure to the values and attitudes of a new peer group coupled with the pressure to adapt to it usually results in rejection of parental advice and an increase in tensions within the family (Gander & Gardiner, 1981).

We think that an instrument evaluating adolescent loneliness should include not only items related to the sources of feelings of loneliness, but items related to the current loneliness feelings in connection with the most important persons in the social network: peers and parents.

The aim of the present work is to develop an adolescent loneliness scale that includes the feeling of being alone among parents and peers and the corresponding attributions that will help determine the degree of loneliness in relation to various sources.

METHOD

Scale Development

Our scale items were based on instruments constructed by other authors. Rokach and Brock (1995) developed a scale that included some items related to inadequate social support systems, social alienation, troubled relationships, loss, crisis, developmental deficits, personal shortcomings, and other items that provide information on significant changes adolescents may have undergone. The authors worked with marginal adolescents and based their loneliness theory upon five factors related to the origins of feelings of loneliness: Personal Inadequacies, Developmental Deficits, Unfulfilling Intimate Relationships, Relocation/Significant Separation, and Social Marginality (Rokach & Brock, 1995). Rokach and Brock not only stress family deficit, but personal inadequacies and feelings of loneliness stemming from separation brought about by relocation and other such changes.

Marcoen focuses more specifically on nonmarginal children and adolescents, underscoring the quality of interpersonal relationships especially with family and peers at the time of the interview. …