Young teenagers are becoming increasingly unhappy, with growing concerns about school, their appearance and the amount of choice and freedom they have, a report has warned.
The study, published by the Children’s Society following interviews with 42,000 children aged between eight and 17, found that after a long period of gradual increase, children’s happiness began to stall in 2008 and had more recently been in decline.
Experts warned that such well-being and mental health issues were too often dismissed as teenage angst, creating a culture of misunderstanding and ignorance.
Emma-Jane Cross, founder of MindFull, the mental health charity for children and young people, said: “”This damaging attitude can no longer continue when so many are desperately unhappy and struggling with serious issues including self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
“Instead of a nation where young people are supported to be healthy, happy and fulfilled, we have a culture of stigma, misunderstanding and ignorance. Our young people deserve better.”
The Good Childhood Report found that teenagers aged 14 and 15 had the lowest satisfaction levels, with 15 per cent found to have “low well-being” compared to just four per cent of eight year olds. It warned that although many young people did not meet the criteria for mental health problems, they were nevertheless “substantially unhappy” with their lives. Those teenagers were more likely to have low academic motivation, poor quality relationships with their family and feel as though they have a lot less money than their friends.
One interviewee said: “I know a lot of people who kind of feel forced to wear certain clothes because they’re in the “in set” and they could get rejected.” Another said: “I wear what I want to wear but sometimes I do get people looking at me but I don’t really mind because it’s a free choice and I don’t mind if people stare. They can do what they want.”
Perceived levels of choice, autonomy and freedom were found to be directly linked to satisfaction levels, dropping between the ages of eight and 15 before rising at 16 and 17.
The study found that British children did not fare well in comparison with many developed nations, echoing the conclusions of a recent UNICEF report that ranked the UK 14th out of 29 countries on children’s life satisfaction. Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, described the drop in children’s happiness as “incredibly worrying”.
He said: “These startling findings show that we should be paying particular attention to improving the happiness of this country’s teenagers. “These findings clearly show that we can’t simply dismiss their low well-being as inevitable ‘teen grumpiness’. They are facing very real problems we can all work to solve, such as not feeling safe at home, being exposed to family conflict or being bullied. “It is so important that we all, from governments to professionals to parents, talk, listen and take seriously what children and teenagers are telling us.”
So what is creating this culture of despair, unhappiness and misunderstanding?
Is it long hours in front of the computer on social media instead of out and about having fun with friends in the real world ? Is it being connected to the their mobile phones 24/7 ?
Is it that teenagers feel isolated from their parents as fewer & fewer families sit down to eat together regularly, let alone spend time chatting, laughing and doing “stuff” together like going bowling, watching sport or riding bikes?
This is not a new phenomenon as I created a video a few years back called ” A Nation od Bad Parents” as I was so upset by the Unicef Report saying British children came bottom of the league in happiness in the developed world in 2010.
My great friend Dr Lynne Kenney is on holiday from the US in Spain and she emailed me about how happy and united Spanish families are – I can say the same about Italian families when I’ve been on holiday with my kids in Europe.