Many youth in Finland lack any close friends with whom them can confidentially discuss personal concerns. In the latest biannual survey of school pupils, one in 10 boys said this was the case. Girls were more likely to say they have close friends. About six percent say that they do not have any really good friends.
The school health survey was carried out with students in the last years of comprehensive schools as well as in high schools and vocational schools. Over the past decade the number of young people without friends has declined. However researchers say that it remains too high.
“There is a clear need for schools to pay attention to measures that strengthen communality and interactive skills,” says researcher Nina Halme of the National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
A lack of friends is more common among youngsters with immigrant backgrounds. This is particularly true of those born outside of Finland.
Adolescents and teens without good friends tended to report poorer health as well.
Anxiety, depression, fatigue and bullying
“These young people have more physical ailments, symptoms of anxiety and depression. More of them also had problems with school attendance,” says child psychiatrist Päivi Santalahti of the THL. They were also more likely to report academic problems, fatigue and being bullied.
According to Santalahti, interpersonal relationship skills should be taught better in schools, with particular focus on boys’ sense of community.
“Just like athletic skills, academic skills and art skills, one can also learn relationship skills,” she tells Yle. “Adults, who decide on many things for youngsters, should enable the best possible education in emotional and interactional skills at schools.”
The school health poll did not directly probe feelings of loneliness. For many children and teens, such feelings are temporary. They may be related to moving to a new town or school or parents’ divorce, for instance. These can lead to a fading of close friendships but often also to new friends over time.
“For some, though, friendlessness is longer term, and especially then it may become a significant threat to well-being,” says Halme.
Some 200,000 students responded to the THL survey last spring. It has been carried out every other year since 1996.