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Understanding adolescents' loneliness: testing for developmental differences in the experience of loneliness in adolescence Weatherby, Maria

Abstract

Is the experience of loneliness dependent or independent of one's developmental stage? Parkhurst and Hopmeyer's (1999) model of'Developmental Changes in the Sources of Loneliness in Childhood and Adolescence' was utilized in an attempt to address this fundamental question. Their model of loneliness specified five distinct stages. The five stages were identified by grade level. Parkhurst and Hopmeyer's rationale suggested that for each stage, one's unique social group preferences, social needs, and understanding of loneliness, influences their sources of loneliness. For the purpose of this present study, two of the five stages were operationalized and presented in a questionnaire. One of the stages tested was upper elementary to junior high school. Twenty-seven grade eight and forty-three grade nine Physical Education students represented the upper elementary to junior high school stage. The other stage tested was high school to college. Fifty-two grade twelve, English students represented the high school to college stage. Overall, results from the questionnaire suggested that developmental stage did not significantly influence the loneliness experience for grade eight to twelve students, in the direction predicted by Parkhurst and Hopmeyer. However, since the measures used to assess Parkhurst and Hopmeyer's model fit existing research surrounding sex differences in loneliness, sex differences were also an area of investigation in the present study. The results indicated that females valued intimate social needs such as 'being able to share emotions and feelings' and 'being able to trust their friends'. Furthermore, females rated social situations that suggested inadequate intimacy, that is, 'feeling misunderstood' and 'not being to share emotions and feelings', as more lonely 'things' than the males. However, although females perceived that failing to obtain these intimate 'things' would make them feel lonely, in actuality, these intimate 'things' were not significantly associated with higher levels of loneliness for the females. On the other hand, males' social needs included 'having friends to do things with' and 'having friends that make you feel like you belong in the group'. Furthermore, males rated the social situations that suggested they had inadequate levels of social status within their group, that is, 'if nobody stuck up for them', 'if they weren't popular enough to belong to their group of choice' or 'if they were embarrassed of their group of friends', as more lonely 'things' than the females. However, although males perceived all of these three 'things' that suggested a lack of social status to cause them to be lonely, in actuality, males had higher levels of loneliness from only one 'thing', that is, 'not feeling like they belonged in a group'.

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