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Maternal Beliefs about the Costs and Benefits of Solitude in Childhood and Adolescence

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Abstract

Experiences of solitude are ubiquitous in childhood and adolescence, but there remains considerable debate as to the potential positive versus negative implications of spending time alone across these developmental periods. The goal of this study was to examine maternal beliefs about the costs and benefits of solitude in childhood and adolescence. Participants were 500 mothers aged 23–67 years (M = 41.54, SD = 7.12) of children (n = 246 girls, n = 254 boys) aged of 4–18 years (M = 10.10, SD = 4.58). Mothers rated how ‘beneficial’ and ‘problematic’ it was, overall, for their child/adolescent to spend time alone, and then described up to three specific costs and benefits of solitude at this age. Open-ended responses were categorized into codes reflecting a wide range of costs and benefits. Among the results, mothers most often described potential costs of solitude related to the mental health concerns and problems with peers, and potential benefits of solitude pertaining to promoting autonomy and restoration. Several significant differences in maternal beliefs were also found between mothers of younger children, older children, and adolescents, as well as a function of child gender and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Results are discussed in terms of the complex links between solitude and well-being in childhood and adolescence.

Highlights

  • This study explored maternal beliefs about the costs and benefits of solitude in childhood and adolescence.

  • Mothers of children aged 4–18 years described how solitude might be ‘beneficial’ and ‘problematic’.

  • Mothers most often cited mental health concerns and peer problems as potential costs of solitude.

  • Mothers most often cited developing autonomy and restoration as potential benefits of solitude.

  • Some differences were observed across gender, age, and if participation was before vs. during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Acknowledgements

This research was support by a Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant (435-2017-0849) to authors R.J.C. and J.C.B.

Author Contributions

All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation and data collection were performed by L.L.O. and K.A. Statistical analyses were performed by J.P.W. The first draft of the manuscript was written by R.J.C. All authors commented, edited, and contributed to previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Robert J. Coplan.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

Ethical Approval

This research was approved by the Carleton University Research Advisory Board-B (Project # 110417). The procedures used in this study adhere to the tenets of the Declaration of Helsinki.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Coplan, R.J., Weingarten, J.P., Bowker, J.C. et al. Maternal Beliefs about the Costs and Benefits of Solitude in Childhood and Adolescence. J Child Fam Stud 33, 1517–1530 (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-023-02713-x

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-023-02713-x

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