CHILDREN in the UK are unhappier today than at any time in the past decade, a new report from the Children’s Society suggests. More than 200,000 children reported being unhappy with their lives as a whole.
The charity released its eighth annual Good Childhood report on Wednesday. Since 2005, in partnership with the University of York, it has surveyed, interviewed, and conducted focus groups with about 67,000 young people to examine the state of children’s well-being in the UK.
In the latest report, which covers 2016-2017, unhappiness about appearance, friendships, and school are cited among the reasons that children’s happiness is at its lowest since 2009.
Almost eight per cent of boys aged ten to 15 — the equivalent of 180,000 based on ONS statistics — reported being unhappy with their appearance. Boys over the age of 13 were significantly more unhappy with how they looked than ten- to 12-year-olds.
In past surveys, boys had been happier with their appearance than girls, the Children’s Society states, “but the gap is narrowing.”
One boy said of the negative effect of Instagram and other social media: “You see all these models, you see all these weight-lifters, body-builders, and you look at yourself and you’re like — I look like a stick. I feel like we’re exposed to a lot more; so we are less secure about our appearance.”
Children were asked, on a scale of one to ten, how happy they were with their appearance: the average score was 7.2. About ten per cent of respondents reported low scores.
The average score for happiness with school was 7.1 out of ten: 12 per cent reported low scores. Levels of happiness with school in general dipped significantly from last year’s report, bucking the upward trend of the past decade, the report states, though there was no significant change in happiness regarding schoolwork (News, 31 August).
The average score for happiness with friends was 7.9 — a significant decrease since 2009. The lowest average score was happiness about the future: 6.9. The highest averages concerned family (8.3), health (8.3), and home (8.0).
New to this year’s report, the Children’s Society surveyed 650 children aged 14 to 15 to analyse potential disadvantages to their life satisfaction.
It states: “The three items that had the largest explanatory power in terms of children’s well-being, on a scale of 0 to 10, included experiencing bullying in the last three months, not feeling safe at school, and missing three or more items from a previously tested index of material deprivation. . .
“Children experiencing disadvantages across multiple areas of their lives had lower average well-being than those experiencing more than one disadvantage in one area, suggesting an index spanning different domains may be more effective.”
Lower-income families reported lower life satisfaction than wealthier families. The well-being gap between families under financial strain and families not under financial strain which reported “high depression” was seven per cent (20.1 per cent: 13.6 per cent). The gap between the families that reported low life satisfaction was just under four per cent.
The chief executive at the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “It is a national scandal that children’s unhappiness is increasing so quickly. Today’s young people are becoming progressively unhappy with their friendships — one of the fundamental building-blocks of well-being — as well as appearance and school. . .
“Many young people tell us they feel sidelined and ignored by those in power. . . We are urging the Government to introduce a national measurement of children’s well-being so we can really listen, respond, and show young people they matter.”
As part of its campaign, the Children’s Society has released a mock-advertising campaign for the Store of Modern Childhood. The exhibition of “bespoke items for the conscious consumer” — including stab vests and journals “for all those depressing thoughts” — seeks to raise awareness of the issues which children face in the modern world.
“The unsettling products are not for sale, but, rather, represent the challenges children and young people face on a daily basis, including poverty, knife crime, bullying, and sexual exploitation.”