Developmental Change in Loneliness and Attitudes Toward Aloneness in Adolescence

Sofie Danneel

Background
Loneliness is particularly salient during adolescence. Changes in different social contexts and the inability to cope with these changes can result in different types of loneliness. According to the multidimensional view on loneliness, loneliness can be experienced in relationships with peers and parents and can be placed in a broader perspective by taking into account attitudes toward aloneness (i.e., positive and negative). Cross-sectional studies investigating age differences in loneliness and attitudes toward aloneness are inconsistent. Longitudinal studies are better suited to infer developmental trends in loneliness and attitudes toward aloneness but these studies are scarce. The main aim of the current study was to fill that gap in current knowledge. However, before longitudinal trends can be examined, it is essential to test whether the scale designed to assess loneliness and attitudes toward aloneness measures the same construct over time.

Method
Two samples of Flemish adolescents consisting of 834 adolescents (61.9% girls, Mage = 14.84; Sample 1), and 968 adolescents (58.6% girls, Mage = 14.82; Sample 2), respectively, were used. Participants filled out the Loneliness and Aloneness Scale for Children and Adolescents (LACA) during regular school hours on three (Sample 1) and four (Sample 2) measurement occasions with a 1-year interval. Longitudinal measurement invariance analyses and latent growth curve modeling (LGCM) were applied.

Results
Results indicated that the LACA shows longitudinal measurement invariance. As a result, latent means for the different subscales across three and four annual waves in middle to late adolescence could be compared. In both samples positive attitude toward aloneness and negative attitude toward aloneness increased and decreased, respectively, throughout adolescence. In addition, in both samples a decrease in parent-related loneliness was found. The results regarding peer-related loneliness were inconsistent across samples.

Conclusion
Additional research on the normative development for peer-related loneliness is clearly indicated, as the results were inconsistent across both samples. In contrast with theoretical expectations, a decrease in parent-related loneliness was found, suggesting that adolescents from ages 15 till 18 continue to perceive their parents as supportive. In line with earlier work, an increase for positive attitude toward aloneness was found in both samples, with an accompanying decrease for negative attitude toward aloneness. Thus, adolescents’ growing appreciation of time spent alone as a constructive domain of experience, as predicted in theoretical work (e.g., Goossens 2006; Larson 1997), has been clearly corroborated. In addition, this study found support for the added value of a multidimensional view of adolescent loneliness.

Contact: sofie.danneel@kuleuven.be

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