Can you imagine a world where a quarter of a million 10 – 15 year old girls aren’t happy with their lives overall? That’s one in seven of all girls in that age group.

Well that’s the reality according to the 2016 Good Childhood Report published by The Children’s Society.

The Children’s Society released this insightful and eye-opening report last year in August, which not only reveals attitudes young children have over really important aspects of their lives, but reinforces the need to have emotional and mental health support implemented in all schools.

Boys and girls aged 10 – 15 were asked to rate their happiness and satisfaction across a number of factors like family, friends, appearance, school and overall life. The Children’s Society found that among girls, there has been a notable decline over a five year period when it comes to how they feel about their appearance and friendships.

The report stated:

These time trends reveal growing gender differences for some aspects of children’s well-being – most strikingly for appearance, with girls becoming increasingly unhappy. It’s important to consider this in the context of 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 for this aspect of life of all participating countries.

The fact that there is a widening gap between boys and girls and how they feel about their appearance and life as a whole as they get older is worrying, considering how influential those adolescent years are.

Between the ages of 10 and 15 children will experience the transition from primary into secondary school where they’re exposed to new people, a new structure and at times may be leaving friendship groups behind that’ve become comfortable with. These factors are bound to have an effect – however a gradual negative effect is something that we need to observe and counter much more closely.

Matthew Reed, the Chief Executive of The Children’s Society said: ‘It’s reassuring that the majority of children in this country are satisfied with how their lives are going, but we cannot turn our backs on the 10% of children who feel their lives have little meaning and purpose. This year’s report uncovers emerging trends that give great cause for concern, and we must come together to act on these and make changes so that every child in this country has a good quality of life.

‘At a time when children’s mental health is of increasing concern, this report highlights the links between well-being and mental health issues. As they get older, girls feel increasingly unhappy with their appearance and experience anxiety and depression significantly more than boys.’

A growing issue?
These findings should shock us all. I can see how physical appearance has become more prominent thanks to social media and pop culture. However I was unaware of just how many girls were affected. It upsets me and makes me concerned for future generations as we become consumed with technology and the media’s focus on superficial role models. It’s unsurprising that a lack of happiness with one’s appearance can trigger body image and mental health issues – something I’ll be talking about in Thursday’s blog.

Surprisingly though, despite the decline in satisfaction around appearance and friendships, the same five year period revealed an increase in satisfaction when it came to school work. The only thing I could draw from this was perhaps that girls were throwing themselves into their education to compensate for how they felt in other areas of their lives.

It is worth noting though that developing and nurturing academic excellence won’t compensate for a lack of emotional intelligence.

You can’t teach emotional wellbeing from a textbook, which is why there is a real need for this kind of support in schools. This can be implemented through additional facilities that students can access or utilising PSHE sessions as a way to drive discussions. But speaking to a number of people within the educational sector, it’s become apparent that the main focus is to ensure schools are aligning and meeting the standards of OFSTED. This means the priority lies with ensuring children are achieving academically, which is incredibly important. However safeguarding their emotional wellbeing should be an equal priority.

The 2016 Good Childhood Report is accessible for further reading. The Children’s Society’s work doesn’t just stop after this week. They’re continuously pushing to bring the issues of children to the forefront and find a solution. One way is by becoming a campaigner, which will help to build momentum and demand the changes that children need. The more people who support The Children’s Society, the louder their voice will be – and the more impact they will have. To sign up, follow this link: http://bit.ly/2jVHVnY.

On Thursday I’ll be delving into self image issues, how social media plays a role and the advice we should all be giving to young girls. 

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