- Nearly half of young people in the North West spend most of their free time in their bedrooms.
- 17% of the North West’s young people spend most of their free time alone.
- 41% of young people in the North West don’t have opportunities to meet new people or make friends.
- Youth clubs help young people make new friends, develop new skills and build resilience
A major new study into the social lives of children and young people aged 11-18 in England published today by the youth charity OnSide, shows that young people in the North West are navigating a world outside of school that is increasingly isolated and home-based, with limited opportunities for face-to-face socialising, making new friends or meeting people in person.
Wigan Youth Zone, which is part of OnSide’s network of 14 Youth Zones, has today reacted to the starting findings, calling on more recognition of the vital role of youth centres to give young people opportunities to socialise, make friends and build valuable life skills that come with real-world interaction
Generation Isolation finds that one in five young people (19%) in England spend most of their free time alone – that’s almost a million young people (988,000) living isolated lives* with 17% in the North West.
Only 14% in the North West said that they spent most of their free time in person with their friends. And despite common misconceptions around how young people spend their time, the reality is that 76% spend most of their time at home with 49% spending most of their free time in their bedroom whilst just 2% spend most of their time hanging out on the street.
OnSide’s survey of 5,078 11-to-18 year olds in England published in partnership with YouGov, builds a picture of young people struggling to socialise away from screens with 73% of young people surveyed spending most of their free time on screens (watching streamed content like Netflix/YouTube, gaming, spending time on their phone or watching tv). This is the same in the North West.
Over half (55%) of young people in the North say they are watching more streamed content now than before the Covid-19 lockdown; 35% of young people say they are doing more gaming now than before the Covid-19 pandemic; and 33% are watching more TV now. Playing computer games is the most time-consuming leisure time activity for young people with 26% spending most of their free time outside school doing this, followed by 26% who say they use their phones the most and 20% who watched streamed content.
Generation Isolation shows that youth clubs like the Wigan Youth Zone play a vital role in enabling young people to build rich social lives, develop skills and build resilience. 84% of young people in the North West that currently attend a youth centre say it has made a positive difference on their lives and 71% of that same group say it has given them new skills. Making new friends is the most popular reason for young people to attend youth centres with 27% of people who said that youth centres have had a positive difference on their life citing this. Yet the report also highlights the lack of widespread opportunity to gain these benefits, with just 8% of young people surveyed in the North West currently attending a youth centre.
Wigan Youth Zone is joining OnSide, which develops Youth Zones in some of the country’s most disadvantaged areas, in calling for every young person to have access to high quality youth centres to help them build rich social connections, achieve their potential and develop into happy, healthy thriving adults.
Wigan Youth Zone has supported many of the area’s young people to make friends, gain vital youth worker support and to take part in engaging and fun activities.
Benjamin Cunliffe, 16 attends the OnSide Youth Zone in Wigan, Greater Manchester, he said: “Earlier this year I found I was spending more and more time gaming at home. I’d spend between five and 10 hours a day on console games like Thief and Rocket League. On some of the games, I’ve logged more than 1,000 hours. I didn’t have any energy for socializing, I couldn’t be bothered going out and found I felt angry and frustrated. So I started attending sessions at Wigan Youth Zone, mostly playing sports with my friends. Volleyball, football and rock climbing are my favourites. I felt happier and more optimistic after being there and gaming was beginning to feel boring in comparison. I’m only gaming a couple of times a month now and I’m at the Youth Zone most days. My mental health is much better; I’m not focused on the bad things anymore, I think much more positively and I feel just naturally happy.”
Other key Generation Isolation findings for the North West include:
- 41% of young people do not have opportunities to meet new people or make friends beyond their usual group of friends (by contrast, young people who currently attend youth centres have far greater social connections with 71% of young people in this group saying they have lots of opportunities to make new friends).
- 53% of 11- to 18-year-olds surveyed identified as having high to very high levels of anxiety**
- Over one in five (21%) of young people do not have opportunities to take part in sports and physical activity outside of school.
- 23% say they do not have a safe space where they feel belonging.
- 19% don’t feel able to manage their health and well-being.
- 26% of young people are reading for enjoyment less now than they did before the pandemic. Activity-based trips and days out are also on the decline with 28% of those surveyed saying they do this less now than pre-pandemic
Commenting on the findings, Head of Youth Work Nikki Varley, said: “Sadly, these stats are not surprising given current challenges our young are facing on systemic and personal levels. We are seeing a huge increase in screen addiction, sleep cycle difficulties, social anxiety, attention deficit and eating disorders. It is clear that the impact of the pandemic on young people’s emotional health and well-being will be felt for a long time to come. It’s why I believe so powerfully that youth services up and down the country such as those provided across the OnSide Network of Youth Zones, are so important – as together we are committed to being there for all young people who need support in the long term.”
“Mental Health is a big priority for us. To help support the increasing need from young people we have trained staff and volunteers as Mental Health First Aiders along with 1-2-1 well-being workers every day of the week, thanks to the funding we received from The Prudence Trust. This means any young person needing support with issues relating to their emotional health and well-being, whether that be anxiety, depression or loneliness always has someone to talk to that can advise them, or signpost them to other partner support services to ensure they get the holistic support needed.”
OnSide Chief Executive Kathryn Morley said: “Too many young people are living isolated lives, increasingly withdrawing into their bedrooms without the support from trusted adults. While online communication is important and has some benefits, its dominance means young people are missing out on the face-to-face interactions that build social skills, confidence, self-esteem, resilience and empathy. We cannot watch an entire generation of young people sleepwalking into social isolation and not develop the qualities that are necessary for mental well-being and that lay the foundations for them to thrive into adulthood. With pupils spending 85% of their lives outside of school, the real world has to be as enticing as the virtual one. Youth centres like Wigan Youth Zones are key to that, helping young people develop and build rich social lives, in safe spaces designed to support them.”
To read the full Generation Isolation report visit: www.onsideyouthzones.org/generationisolation from 00.01 on 8 November 2022.