Childhood is in crisis, say families

Pupils and their families say bullying is the number one reason for childhood unhappiness, with both pupils and adults stating childhood has got worse

Catherine Lough

child mental health

Pupils, parents and grandparents all think childhood has got worse over time, with a national charity warning it is now in a state of crisis.

A report by Action for Children found that pupils and their families think bullying is a key reason preventing children from having a “good childhood”.

In a survey of 2,082 children aged 11-18, 61 per cent reported bullying as a significant issue stopping young people from having a good childhood, while 63 per cent of parents and 69 per cent of grandparents also chose “being bullied” as a reason for unhappy childhoods.

Quick read: Two in five pupils unsure how to get mental health help

News: What do 12-year-olds think about school?

Insight: 'We must take the heat out of the exam system'

Children, their parents and grandparents all reported that childhoods today were worse than they had been for previous generations.

However, young people differed from their parents and grandparents in choosing “too much pressure from school” as the next most important reason preventing a “good childhood”, with 60 per cent of children selecting this.

Parents were more likely to choose “too much time spent on electronic devices and social media” as an option, with 57 per cent of parents selecting this, while 60 per cent of grandparents also thought social media and technology were to blame for unhappy childhoods.

The majority of children and their families felt that pressure to “fit in and look a certain way” was damaging childhoods, with 55 per cent of young people reporting this, alongside 59 per cent of parents and 57 per cent of grandparents.

Young people are also more anxious about current affairs, with 91 per cent of children reporting they were worried by political issues.

Many children were concerned by Brexit – 38 per cent – while 50 per cent reported feeling anxious about others suffering from poverty.

The environment was also a key concern, with 48 per cent stating they worried about this, while 49 per cent of children reported worries over terrorism.

Adults were likely to underestimate young people’s personal fears about their mental health, with 29 per cent of children reporting that their mental health worried them, compared with 17 per cent of parents and 9 per cent of grandparents thinking it was a worry for their child or grandchild.

Children were also more concerned about crime than their families, with 27 per cent of young people reporting that they feared “being a victim of crime when I am out (eg, knife crime, terrorism, robbery)” compared with 14 per cent of parents and grandparents.

In one case study from the charity's survey, 15-year-old Cathal from Northern Ireland said he had been in "low places" as a consequence of social media, peer pressure and anxieties over politics.

"In school, we have so much pressure too and exams are everything," Cathal said. "You feel that if you fail them, your whole life is over. I got interested in current events and politics at 13 – the generation who is making these choices won’t be around for the consequences and it’s us who will have to bite the bullet.

“There’s no investment in schools or support given to children for mental health and other things and it’s such a shame.”

His grandfather Dessie, 71, said: “I don’t really think they have a childhood nowadays. They worry about 'adult' issues so much more.

“If you didn’t pass exams when I was young you could still have a successful life, but now you’re painted as a failure if you don’t get into university. On the internet they’re dragged into websites where they can be encouraged to commit suicide.”

Action for Children released the report to coincide with its 150th anniversary, as the charity launched its new campaign 'Choose Childhood'.

Action for Children’s chief executive Julie Bentley said: “What we want is for every child and young person in the country to have a safe and happy childhood with the foundations they need to thrive.

“The country is sleepwalking into a crisis in childhood and, far from being carefree, our children are buckling under the weight of unprecedented social pressures, global turmoil and a void in government policy which should keep them well and safe.

“Our research shows children worry about poverty, homelessness and terrorism and the vulnerable children we work with every day are facing traumas like domestic abuse or neglect, going hungry or struggling with their mental health, without the support they desperately need.

“For the past decade, the government has been asleep on the job when it comes to investing in our children. The next prime minister must wake up to this growing crisis and put our children first.

“We want to see the establishment of a national childhood strategy so departments right across government can get a grip on these issues, backed with funding to deliver urgently needed services to keep children safe from harm.”

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Although in many ways this is the best time yet to be young, I certainly recognise the pressures and worries young people feel.

“Growing up has never been easy, but technology and social media can exacerbate the need to fit in and the perception of others’ perfect lives, as well as make it harder to leave being bullied behind at the school gates.

“But we are equipping young people for adulthood in a changing world by identifying mental health problems and providing support in schools, encouraging young people to gain resilience and skills through activities such as sport and music, and teaching young people in school how to navigate the online world safely and constructively.

“The government is also giving young people a voice in the issues they care about, such as combating serious violence and knife crime, addressing mental and physical health challenges and concerns about the environment and climate change, through a new Youth Charter which is in development.”

The Action for Children report was published on the same day that The Diana Award charity published new figures on the prevalence of bullying.

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Latest stories