Almost one in every seven British children starting their secondary school careers feel lonely “often”, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that 14% of children aged 10 to 12 say they often feel lonely.
This reduces to 8.6% of 13- to 15-year-olds, the figures show.
Conversations with youngsters also revealed that transitions linked to schooling can trigger loneliness.
It is the first time the statistics body has analysed children and young people’s views and experiences of loneliness.
The data, drawn from various surveys of children and young people, also shows that youngsters living in cities are more likely to report often feeling lonely compared with those who live in the countryside or in towns.
Among those age 10 to 15, 19.5% of children living in a city reported “often” feeling lonely compared to just over 5% of those living in either towns or rural areas.
Children in this age bracket were also more likely to report feeling lonely if they were receiving free school meals, had health problems or had poor relationships with friends and family.
The data also included figures from young people aged 16 to 24 from across England.
One in 10 (9.8%) reported feeling lonely “often”.
The ONS said children and young people described embarrassment about admitting to loneliness, seeing it as a possible “failing”.
Youngsters made a series of suggestions on what could be done to help, including making it more acceptable to discuss loneliness at school; preparing young people better to understand and address loneliness in themselves and others; and encouraging positive uses of social media.
ONS statistician Dawn Snape said: “This is our first ever report on children’s loneliness, part of work we are doing to provide insight into this important social issue that can impact on people’s health and well-being.
“We’ve looked at how often children and young people feel lonely and why. An important factor is going through transitional life stages such as the move from primary to secondary school and, later, leaving school or higher education and adapting to early adult life.
“This work supports the Government’s loneliness strategy, announced by the Prime Minister in October.”
Commenting on the figures, Eleanor Hevey, senior policy and advocacy manager at the British Red Cross, said: “We know that key life transitions or events such as bereavement or experiencing bullying can contribute to feelings of being alone.
“These findings from the ONS underline the importance of educating children and young people about loneliness and the impact it can have on a person’s well-being.
“We fully support efforts to emphasise the importance of being connected, socialising and maintaining friendships as part of primary and secondary curriculums.”