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  • Print publication year: 1999
  • Online publication date: October 2009

2 - The Conceptualization and Measurement of Childhood Loneliness


Work on childhood loneliness has been fairly late in coming to the field, partly because, until recently, it has been a commonly held view that children are not susceptible to feelings of loneliness. However, recent work (see Rotenberg, this volume) has demonstrated that these assumptions are incorrect and that even young children can, and do, experience loneliness. Given this recognition, it becomes important to consider how children's feelings of loneliness can best be assessed. The present chapter examines three of the currently available childhood loneliness measures in terms of their utility, the psychometric properties of each, and the interrelationships among them. However, because measurement approaches are derived from theory, it is first appropriate to begin with a brief overview of theoretical arguments regarding loneliness and then turn to how these conceptual notions have been operationalized in terms of efforts to assess loneliness in childhood.

Theories of Loneliness in the Adult Literature

Within the adult literature, two major theories of loneliness have gained prominence over the past 25 years: the social needs theory and the cognitive processes approach.

Social Needs Theory

The social needs theory (Bowlby, 1973; Sullivan, 1953; Weiss, 1973, 1974) suggests that loneliness is a response to a relational deficit that gives rise to a yearning for the insufficient relationship. “The longing for interpersonal intimacy stays with every human being from infancy throughout life; and there is no human being who is not threatened by its loss. … The human being is born with the need for contact and tenderness” (Fromm-Reichmann, 1980, p. 342).

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Loneliness in Childhood and Adolescence
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