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Children’s wellbeing in the UK: are our youngsters becoming unhappier?

What are the most important issues facing children in the UK today? According to Childline’s most recent research the state of children’s wellbeing in the UK is lower than the rest of Europe and North America. And according to the latest figures from The Office for National Statistics, children don’t appear to be getting happier despite improvements across a range of indicators including educational attainment, fewer children living in low-income households and falling smoking and drinking levels among young people. 

Why are children getting unhappier?

Research from Childline to mark its 30th anniversary suggests that many of the issues that affected children 30 years ago – sexual abuse, domestic violence, bullying – are still sadly the reason why 4,500 children call Childline’s counselling service every day. However, recently there has been a significant increase in children’s concern about their online body image, and anxiety about social media - competing against their peers for online recognition is a key area of concern.

Similarly, the Children’s Society’s fourth Good Childhood Report found that children had the lowest self-confidence when compared against fourteen other countries, and second from bottom in feeling positive about their appearance.

Today the most fundamental problems facing UK’s children include low self-esteem, unhappiness and self-harm. An overwhelming body of research indicates children's wellbeing depends on their own parent's mental health, their parenting styles and the child's general quality of life. 

What can we do?

In light of this, what can we do? Thankfully, many interventions exist, not least in schools such as the Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS), but also initiatives like parenting classes that aim to strengthen couples relationships but also their own personal relationships with their children. David Cameron recently announced that the Government will be stepping up on plans to roll out parenting programmes. It will be interesting to see how these plans develop and what role childcare professionals might play in supporting take-up. 

As childcare professionals your role in supporting the development of children's emotional wellbeing is vital and PACEY's recently launched Early Minds Matter campaign can help you to provide support and guidance for the children in your care. There are a wide range of free resources and information to help you - do take a look. PACEY has also joined forces with MindED and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, to provide members with free online training focused on understanding child mental health.

A brighter future

The good news is that policy makers are aware of the challenges – DfE appointed Natasha Devon as mental health champion last summer and she has very interesting ideas.  PACEY will certainly be alerting members to the debate in February when the Duchess of Cambridge will be guest-editing Huffington Post to raise awareness of children’s mental health.

What is needed is a joined up approach so that schools, childcare professionals and parents can work together to improve children’s resilience. There is clearly a need to support children to develop a healthy and balanced attitude to social media – and childcare professionals have a role to play here with access to social media being increasingly reported in younger age groups. 

Find out more

If children’s emotional wellbeing is a subject that interests you and you’d like to find out more about the further research that’s out there take a look at our Literature Review

For advice around helping children to keep safe online and use social media wisely, go to:

About the author

This blog was written by Ione Inness as part of her policy and communications internship programme at PACEY. 

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