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HIGH LIFE: A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : When Students Are Lonely : It's Not Unusual for Teens to be Trapped in Their Own Little Worlds, but Often There Are Many Good Reasons They Choose to Be Alone

February 10, 1989|JULIE SONE and CONNIE ALCARAZ | Julie Sone and Connie Alcaraz are seniors at Sunny Hills High School, where they are editors on the Accolade, the school newspaper. This story first appeared in the Accolade in January

They're alone in the middle of the crowd . . . isolated . . . cut off . . . friendless . . . sometimes by their choosing . . . sometimes because no one has opened his heart to be a friend.

Loneliness is not unusual for teen-agers, many of whom are trapped in their own little worlds, lacking the self-confidence and self-esteem to set them free.

Columbia University psychologist Jeffrey Young, in an article in Psychology Today, describes three kinds of loneliness: transient, situational and chronic.

"Transient loneliness lasts between a few minutes and a few hours," Young says. "And because the symptoms are not severe, not much attention has been devoted to it."

Situational loneliness results from an important event such as a divorce, a death in the family or a geographic move, according to Young.

The effects can be both physical and mental--

headaches, sleep problems, anxiety, depression--and can last up to a year.

However, for some lonely people, temporary circumstances are not the main problem. These people have a difficult time interacting with others even when conditions are favorable.

They may be chronically lonely, a condition Young categorizes as being lonely for more than 2 years at a time without experiencing a traumatic ordeal.

"When people are lonely for that length of time, typically they blame themselves and their personality traits rather than circumstances," Young says. "Chronically lonely people can become convinced that there is little or nothing they can do to improve their condition."

Health educator Dolores Delcoma of Cal State Fullerton says there are many good reasons people may choose to be alone.

"Some people enjoy being by themselves and are comfortable being alone," she said. "They understand themselves, and therefore they get along well because they choose to go into solitude."

Loneliness, however, may be brought on by a feeling of not fitting in or belonging or may come from the fear of rejection.

Michael, a 17-year-old senior, has thought about committing suicide in the school's quad area so someone will notice him.

Andrea, a 15-year-old sophomore, doesn't want to be noticed, so she hides behind the school's shop building.

And while these are not their real names, the two are typical of the lonely teen-agers who can be found on any high school campus. These two happen to attend Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton.

"Being alone can hurt to the point where someone can consider committing suicide," Delcoma said.

"I've gotten depressed a lot of times," Michael said. "I even thought about committing suicide at lunchtime out in the quad by just sticking a knife through me."

He said he believed doing that would show others the pain he has felt from being ignored by his fellow students. He said it would leave an ominous message: "Look, you people, all you preppo-trends and whatever you call yourselves--look what you've done!"

Michael says that at other times he doesn't care about how he has been treated.

"Killing myself in the quad would show that I did care about them," he said. "It would draw attention to me."

Michael said he has always been set apart from everybody else.

"People consider me to be so different from the mainstream," he said. "I have different standards, different ideals, different feelings. I was the only one that liked me, and so I liked to be alone.

"I do a lot of research for both school and on my own," he said. "No one else is going to go and research the Soviet Union on their own or predict the stock market for 6 months. It takes up a lot of my time and I learn a lot of information, so in class and in groups, other students fear my knowledge."

Delcoma believes that Michael's long hours of study are to compensate for his feelings of loneliness.

"A lot of people consider me a nerd, so they don't want to be associated with me," Michael said. "People know who I am, and I'm considered very unpopular."

When Michael first came to Sunny Hills, he said he wanted to be alone so he stayed in the far-off reaches of the campus.

"Nobody wanted to be associated with me anymore when I got into high school," he said. "Sometimes, you just have to retreat from everything because people just don't understand you.

"I wasn't worried about what they thought. I still liked myself. I'm very happy with myself. I can get along with myself just fine."

Michael said he has tried to succeed at many things, including sports, academics and a social life, but he believes that he has been a failure.

"I've been in four different sports, and I've been in junior varsity every time," he said. "I never got a varsity letter. I failed in IB (International Baccalaureate, a curriculum of advanced classes) because it was too stressful.

"I've never had a girlfriend, either, but believe me, I've tried. I was rejected one night by about 10 to 20 girls. They gave me excuses, but then I'd find out they had gone out with someone else. The rejection was fine because I was used to it and I just accepted it."

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