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Childhood report reveals rise in unhappiness for UK girls

Posted on 31 August 2016

More than a quarter of a million girls in Britain are unhappy with their lives according research at the University of York and the Children’s Society.

The latest Good Childhood report shows that an estimated 283,000 girls aged 10-15 say they are not happy with their lives overall – one in seven of all girls in that age group.  The number of 10-15 year-old girls who do not feel happy with their looks reached 700,000 across the UK – more than a third (34%) of the total number of young people surveyed. 

The proportion of boys aged 10-15 who are unhappy with their lives has remained stable at one in nine, while the proportion of boys who say they are unhappy with their appearance continues to hover around 20%. 

Gwyther Rees, Honorary Research Fellow at the University of York’s Social Policy Research Unit, said:  “We are unclear why there is a widening gender gap, but it is possible that emotional bullying, which girls are more likely to experience, could be a major factor.  Verbal abuse is twice as common as physical bullying in girls compared to boys. 

“We have a lot of data on adult mental health and wellbeing, but there is a danger that policies around children’s wellbeing are based on this.  We know that factors influencing positive mental health in children are different to adults and therefore it is important that the voice of young people is heard in any decision making regarding support services.” 

Desperately worrying

The trend builds on findings from last year’s Good Childhood Report, in which England ranked last out of 15 countries for happiness with appearance and also had the most pronounced gender differences of all participating countries. The same report suggested that gender differences in children’s well-being are not inevitable.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of the Children’s Society, said:It is desperately worrying that so many of our young people are suffering rather than thriving. Girls are having a particularly tough time and it’s clear that concerted action is needed to tackle this problem. 

“All children deserve a happy childhood and we must never accept that it is somehow inevitable that so many children in Britain should live in distress. As a first step all children should be able to access mental health and wellbeing support in school. Children must be heard and helped.” 

Anxiety and depression

The report highlights that boys and girls experience mental health problems in different ways. While boys aged 10 and 11 are less happy than girls with their school work and more likely to experience conduct and attention/hyperactivity problems, girls experience anxiety and depression significantly more than boys – and become increasingly unhappy with their appearance – as they get older. 

The latest in a series of studies into children’s lives based on surveys of thousands of young people, the report finds that at age 12, 10% of children overall are ‘languishing’ in lives they feel have little meaning and purpose – with low scores on both happiness with life and psychological well-being. 

The research also found that children’s perceptions and experiences of their local area, including on the quality of facilities, how safe they feel, and how much freedom they perceive they have, are clearly linked to how happy they feel. The two local problems with the strongest links to well-being are ‘noisy neighbours’ and ‘people drinking or taking drugs’. 

Researchers are calling on Government to take action to improve children’s happiness across the nation with a legal entitlement for children to be able to access mental health and well-being support in schools and FE colleges across England and Wales. 

Further information:

· The Good Childhood Report 2016 marks the 11th anniversary of The Children’s Society and the University of York’s joint research on children’s subjective well-being. It is the most extensive and coherent programme of national research on children’s subjective well-being anywhere in the world

· The Good Childhood Report uses evidence from a number of sources, including:

 - The Children’s Society household surveys: since 2010, we have conducted regular surveys of 2,000 households in England, Scotland and Wales with parents and children aged eight to 17. The surveys collect data on the well-being of children and parents, as well as household data such as income and occupations. So far 30,000 children have been involved in 15 waves of the survey

 - The Children’s Society schools surveys: since 2008, we have conducted three major schools-based well-being surveys, the last of which was undertaken in 2013-14 as part of the Children’s Worlds international study. To date, these schools surveys have involved over 17,000 children aged 8 to 15

- Understanding Society: this longitudinal study involves 40,000 households in Britain and includes questions for children aged 10 to 15

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