• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Wednesday 19th November, 2014

Just how good is childhood these days?

strong>In the UK, one in 10 children reports a low level of subjective well-being, according to the latest report from the Children’s Society. The results from England and Scotland give particular grounds for concern.The large majority of children in the UK are relatively happy and satisfied with their lives, the report reveals. The percentage who report good well-being is higher now than it was two decades ago. That’s the good news. The bad news is that around half a million children aged 10 to 13 report low well-being. And the international rankings have more bad news: children in England placed 30th of 39 countries in Europe and North America, while children in Scotland were only just ahead, at number 29.England also placed ninth among 11 countries worldwide, ahead of only Uganda and South Korea, and behind Romania, Algeria, and South Africa.These are some of the results reported in the Good Childhood Report 2014, published by The Children’s Society in collaboration with the University of York. This report gives an insight into what impacts children’s well-being in the UK. Why should we care about subjective well-being?In some sense, well-being is the goal of life. It may be influenced by our families, friends, neighborhoods, income, and health – but it goes beyond all of these. Well-being is typically measured with questions about how happy people are on a day-to-day basis, and how satisfied they are with their lives as a whole. Low well-being may lead to other problems down the line, such as poor mental health.What gives children a sense of happiness and satisfaction? What are their biggest concerns? The report’s authors argue that the best way to find out is to ask children themselves – something that both researchers and policymakers typically fail to do.The data for this year’s report come primarily from a survey of 5,000 children aged 10 to 13 annually in the UK, which is now in its ninth year. This year, thanks to a new international study, researchers were also able to compare the responses of children in the UK countries with those from around the world. Unhappy with appearanceThe UK’s children are much happier with certain aspects of their lives, such as possessions and family, than with others such as appearance. Overall, 13% of children aged 10 to 13 were unhappy with their looks. In the international survey, England ranked 10th of 11 countries on this aspect.There is also a large gender gap in unhappiness about appearance. Girls are much more inclined to be unhappy with their looks, especially as they get older. A full 18% of girls expressed unhappiness about their appearance, compared to 9% of boys. Even more worrying, this gender gap has grown in recent years. Is it natural for girls to worry more about their appearance than boys? The report’s authors argue that it is not. They say: “The gender gap in satisfaction with [appearance] occurs only in some countries, suggesting that we should not accept as inevitable that girls will feel worse about their appearance than boys.” Explaining the variationWhy do some children have much lower or higher well-being than others? The report focused on four categories: what children do, what children have, parental well-being and mental health, and parenting. What children do: Children who regularly played sports or active games had higher well-being than those who were less active. Those who regularly used the internet outside of school were more likely to have higher well-being than their peers who rarely or never used the internet. Notably, these relationships may not be causal – it could be the case, for instance, that households with computers, or households that make time for sports, also have other advantages that improve children’s well-being. What children have: Material deprivation – defined as lacking things like pocket money or family day trips that children thought they needed – was linked to subjective well-being. Similar trends were found for children who saw themselves as poor, and for those who said their family had suffered in the economic crisis. Interestingly, children who saw their material resources as equal to those around them had higher well-being than those who thought they had more. Parental well-being and mental health: The survey produced evidence for a link between parent and child subjective well-being. Around 15% of those living with a depressed mother had low well-being, compared to 9% of those whose mothers were not depressed. The researchers highlight that this may be one reason that household income has such a strong effect on children’s well-being: poverty may affect parents’ mental health, which in turn affects children’s happiness and satisfaction. Parenting: Emotional support from parents, “such as praise for doing well or support when upset,” was linked to higher well-being among the children.The report provides insight into how children in the UK perceive their well-being and how they compare to children in other countries. In particular, the authors conclude, “happiness with appearance is an aspect of life where children in England seem to fare particularly poorly compared to the other countries in the study.” Given the low rankings of some of the UK countries in international comparisons, the UK may have much to learn from other nations. *********Reference:The Children’s Society. (2014). The Good Childhood Report 2014: Executive Summary. Childrenssociety.org.uk/well-being

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