Generation isolation: Study reveals half of youngsters in North West spend free-time alone

Around half of all young people in the North West spend their free time alone, according to a charity survey.

Onside believes many are living isolated lives, therefore not meeting new people or developing the qualities necessary for positive mental wellbeing.

The charity runs the Youth Zone network, which provides clubs across the UK.

Benji used to play video games for up to 10 hours a day. Credit: ITV Granada Reports

Benji Cunliffe, a teenager from Wigan, says the sessions have helped him swap spending up to 10 hours a day playing video games for a more sociable lifestyle.

He said: "Staying in and being on your own, I feel like it's definitely been normalised, and when you do that nobody really thinks 'should they go out a bit more' or 'do they need to speak to their friends?'

"They are thinking, 'oh they are speaking to them online', but it's just not the same, so it creates situations where kids are not really speaking to friends or having the experiences they want and need for when they grow up."

Benji told ITV News he's logged more than 1,000 hours on some games

The senior youth club manager for Wigan's Youth Zone, Benjamin Evans says these habits are having a dramatic impact on mental health, adding: "A lot of young people are struggling with things like anxiety and depression and a lot of the time it is because they feel lonely and isolated.

"We've seen young people struggling to socialise and deal with conflict in a calm and reasonable approach."

And the figures back it up, with 53% of 11 to 18-year-olds reporting high to very high levels of anxiety.

Could the pandemic be blamed for these behavioural shifts?

Wigan's Youth Zone manager says activities going online during lockdown didn't help the problem.

He also thinks the emergence of more social media, gaming and streaming platforms is a contributing factor.

"We are not saying it's a bad thing," he said, "but we are trying to say is having them real human relationships with trusted adults, other young people, people in the community is really important for their development."

Now that he's made the change, Benji says he's seen vast improvements.

"My mental health is much better," he said.

"I'm not focused on the bad things anymore, I think much more positively and I feel just naturally happy."

He added: "I'm only gaming a couple of times a month now and I'm at the Youth Zone most days."

Chief Executive of Onside, Kathryn Morley said: "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 OnSide's North West Youth Zones are key to that, helping young people develop and build rich social lives, in safe spaces designed to support them."

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