As a family law practice, we regularly witness the impact of legal cases on children and young adults. Whether a family dispute, parental separation, or another situation which directly effects of the lives of those too young to process what is happening around them, it is essential to put the needs of children first and foremost in any decision-making process. In this article, we will be looking at recent research which paints a rather bleak picture of the mental wellbeing of hundreds of thousands of children across the UK, the reasons for this, and what can be done to improve matters for those most vulnerable.
The Good Childhood Report 2019
In the Children’s Society 8th annual publication, ‘The Good Childhood Report 2019’, it is all too painfully clear that many children across the UK are deeply unhappy. Based on research which commenced in 2005 in conjunction with the University of York, we now have a better understanding of the self-reported wellbeing of children across the country, how this varies in relation to household income, and their feelings about the future. While, for some, this may make for rather disheartening news, it is only with insight that changes can be made for the better; by ignoring or not asking pertinent questions which reveal the true feelings of our young people, it is more likely that matters would be less likely to improve.
The study reveals that while 10 – 15-year-olds have an overall happiness score of 7.89 out of 10 (ten being the highest level of contentment), and nearly 5% of this same age group reported happiness of less than five. This 5% represents around 219,000 children across the UK who are unhappy in their lives.
The study goes much further than assessing overall happiness, however. It looks at the feelings of children in each area of their lives, from family, health, home, to appearance, and school. Some of the most concerning contentment results include:
- Future scored the lowest level of score (average of 6.9 / 10)
- School was the second-lowest score (average of 7.1 / 10)
- School also had the highest level of low scores (12%)
- Appearance had the second-highest level of low scores (9.7%)
From a more positive perspective, the children surveyed were most happy about their families, with only 3.7% providing low scores.
The time trend is also revealing, showing a steady decline in happiness with ‘life as a whole’ from 2011. There also been a large drop in happiness at school from the previous year, changing from a score of 7.76 to 7.37. It is too early to state if this is a long-term trend.
Understanding the reasons for unhappiness
The study also looked at the impact of disadvantage (using 24 types) on unhappiness by surveying a group of 650 teenagers in year 10. Disadvantages included having no adults in the household with paid employment, not feeling safe at home, having a young carer, not feeling safe at school, and living in an area with anti-social behaviour. Not unsurprisingly, the greater the number of disadvantages, the lower the happiness score (with an average score of 7.1 with one disadvantage and 5.3 with four disadvantages). This demonstrates that factors which many feel are just part of the vicissitudes of life actually add to the unhappiness of a child.
Another conclusion upheld by previous research shows that household income poverty does not determine the happiness of a child; what matters more is whether their basic needs are being met and how well adults in the family are able to cope with little financial resources.
As with any research of this nature, the exact reasons for declining happiness in our children is hard to pinpoint. While it is useful to understand that children are less happy at school, understanding why is more important. The media certainly plays a big part in promoting ideals which many young feel under enormous pressure to conform to. According to the Children’s Society, “some boys told us they feel pressure to go to the gym and that films, TV and social media all affect the way they feel about how they look. This is of huge concern. Wider research suggests factors as varied as bullying, being unable to spend time with friends outside of school, excessive social media use, and loneliness could all be playing a role.”
It is also highly understandable that children will be deeply concerned at the constant presence of media relating to important global concerns, whether populism, climate change, trade wars, Brexit, or any other range of factors. This can lead to panic, anxiety, depression in adults, so it should be of no surprise that children will feel the effects of such news in the same ways.
Even for adults, knowing how to process and deal with events within and outside of our control can be problematic, but ultimately by taking care of our own physical and mental wellbeing, our children will benefit as a result. If a child is suffering anxiety or unhappiness in relation to a divorce or family dispute, by seeking expert legal advice from a family law Solicitor, the faster you can get matters under control, the sooner your children will be able to resume their lives. As for matters outside of our control, including political upheaval, whether domestic or international, it might be the best approach is to switch off the news, our mobile phones, and take our children to the local park – this won’t fix world events, but it can mean the world to a young child who has been worrying too much about them.
Rosie Bracher are specialist family law solicitors based in Barnstaple. We have the knowledge and expertise to advise you on family law matters, children’s law, and disputes. Please contact our office on 01271 314 904 and arrange to speak to one of our team.