THE BLOG

A Generation Without Friends

01/04/2013 04:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 06, 2013

It's hard to believe Facebook has only been around since 2004. Google was a number before 1998. And YouTube wasn't even around before 2000. But the onslaught of social media and the impact we see in everything from commerce to relationship has redefined our lives.

A friend is no longer someone who rides with you on their bike down the street, they're the one who "liked" your photo.

A friend isn't always someone who looks you in the eye with a look of compassion, but rather someone who posts something positive on your wall for all to see.

Today, a friend doesn't have to write a letter or have a meal; they just have to invite you to an online event to make you feel special.

As so many of us are learning how to use the new tools from the Internet revolution, there are good ways to connect -- and things missing.

For example, I've asked several teenagers what the #1 issue is at their school, and without exception, they always come back to some form of loneliness.

"I feel all alone, and I don't know why," a quarterback from a southeast high school told me.

"If you feel lonely," I replied, "then what do you think everyone else in the school feels?"

Here is one of the most high-profile students in a particular school. He has thousands of Facebook followers, a popular Instagram account and everyone wants a shot at his cell phone number, yet in the midst of it all, he feels all alone?

I'm afraid with the illusion of friendship being highlighted on so many social media platforms, we're actually redefining what "friendship" really means. To learn how to have compassion for one another apart from a machine is something of the past. To learn how to rejoice with someone in person is becoming a lost art. I see students every single week in different places around the world who are suffering from a lack of "know how." It's not that they don't want real friends; they just don't know how to relate anymore.

Ask a student how his or her day was, and they'll fumble through an explanation. Text a student a question, and you might get 10 responses in a row.

I'm not advocating we do away with online social media, but I do think there are ways we can help coach students to have REAL friendships. After all, I believe humanity needs to be able to be friends outside of a social media world where there is no real threat for rejection. We need to teach our kids how to deal with people in situations where you have to look someone in the eye and read what they're thinking and what motivates them.

Without a few people who grew up in the world without social media, I'm afraid for this generation growing up without real friends, because loneliness is a dark, shadowy pit that keeps people from exploring the world and others who live in it.