12 Jan 2012

The Children's Society is calling for a radical new approach to childhood as the charity's landmark research identifies the keys to children's happiness.

The Good Childhood Report 2012 (full text, summary), being launched today by the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, reveals that at any moment half a million children across the UK are unhappy with their lives.

The report unveils six key priorities needed for a happy childhood, after interviewing more than 30,000 children aged eight to 16.

Children who have low levels of happiness are much less likely to enjoy being at home with their family, feel safe when with their friends, like the way they look and feel positive about their future. Children unhappy in this way are also more likely to be victimised, have eating disorders or be depressed.

Key findings

Key findings in the Good Childhood Report 2012 (full text, summary) include:

  • Choice and family have the biggest impact on children's happiness.
  • It is not the structure, but the relationships within a family that children care about. Loving relationships between a child and their family are ten times more powerful than family structure in increasing well-being.
  • Stability is important. Children who experience a change in family members they are living with are twice as likely to experience low well-being. Almost a quarter (23%) of children who have moved home more than once over the past 12 months have low levels of well-being.
  • Low well-being increases dramatically with age – doubling from the age of 10 (7%) to the age of 15 (14%).
  • Children as young as eight are aware of the financial issues their families face. Children in families who have experienced a reduction in income are more likely to have low well-being.
  • Children who do not have clothes to 'fit in' with peers are more than three times as likely to be unhappy with their appearance. Around a third say they often worry about the way they look. Unhappiness with appearance increases with age and is greater among girls.
  • Children who had been bullied more than three times over the last three months were significantly more likely to experience low well-being (36%) than those that had never been bullied (6%).
  • Children like to be similar to their friends. Children who have a lot less, or even a lot more pocket money than their friends, have lower levels of well-being.

'The opportunity to make changes'

The Archbishop of York said: 'The moral test for any society is how it treats its most vulnerable, including its children. The fact that at any one time half a million children who are unhappy with their lives should be a wake-up call to us all.

'Policy makers and public alike will find clear information in this report about what causes our children to be unhappy with their lives. With such understanding comes the opportunity to make changes using the six priorities that The Children’s Society has identified to make sure that every child has a good childhood.'

Six priorities for a happy childhood

The charity argues that there are six priorities needed for a happy childhood. A supplementary report, Promoting Positive Well-Being for Children, also published today, sets out how they should be adopted by government and others as priorities when devising new policies that impact on children’s lives. These are:

  1. The right conditions to learn and develop
  2. A positive view of themselves and a respect for their identity
  3. Enough of the items and experiences that matter to them
  4. Positive relationships with their family and friends
  5. A safe and suitable home environment and local area
  6. The opportunities to take part in positive activities that help them thrive

A radical new approach to childhood

Elaine Hindal, The Children's Society's Campaign for Childhood Director, said: 'We are calling for a radical new approach to childhood, placing their well-being at the heart of everything we do. Our research has exposed that how children feel really matters.

'We know that, right now, half a million children are unhappy. We have discovered the key reasons for this unhappiness and what we can do to make it better. We want our country to be the best place for our children to grow up. Yet unless we act now we risk becoming one of the worst and creating a lost future generation.

'The charity has created a new, comprehensive way of measuring children’s wellbeing. We urge government and other decision-makers to use the six priorities we have pinpointed. This is a real opportunity to make a huge difference to their lives.'

'The true picture of children's well-being in the UK today'

Professor Lord Richard Layard, economist and principal author of The Children's Society's A Good Childhood (2009), said: 'This important research reveals the true picture of children's wellbeing in the UK today. The Children's Society has used its extensive research and deep experience in this area to help us view childhood in a fresh and significant way. Everybody involved in shaping children’s lives should sit up and take note of this report.'

The Archbishop of York will be the keynote speaker and launch the Good Childhood 2012 report at The Children's Society's Edward Rudolf Lecture, Church House, Westminster, London, SW1P 3NZ, on January 12 at 5.30pm. (Full details.)

Ends

Media enquiries

For more information – or to attend the Edward Rudolf Lecture  please call The Children's Society media team on 020 7841 4422 or email mea@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to editors

About the Good Childhood Report 2012:

  • The first well-being survey was conducted in 2008 with over 7,000 children aged 10-15 in mainstream schools in England, with a second wave of nearly 6,000 8-to-15-year-olds in late 2010 and early 2011. 
  • Quarterly surveys with 2,000 children aged 8-15 are now being conducted. The first wave of the survey took place in July 2010 and data from the first five waves of this survey are used in this report.

About The Children's Society

The Children's Society wants to create a society where children and young people are valued, respected and happy. We are committed to helping vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, including children in care and young runaways. We give a voice to disabled children, help young refugees to rebuild their lives and provide relief for young carers. Through our campaigns and research, we seek to influence policy and perceptions so that young people have a better chance in life.

Lord Layard

Lord Layard is a labour economist who has worked for most of his life on how to reduce unemployment and inequality. currently his main interest is how better mental health could improve our social and economic life. He is also co-author of A Good Childhood – a landmark report for The Children’s Society.

The Good Childhood Inquiry

The Good Childhood Inquiry was commissioned by The Children's Society and launched in September 2006 as the UK's first independent national inquiry into childhood. Evidence was contributed by over 30,000 people – including over 20,000 children – taking part in polls, research and focus groups. The result is the report A Good Childhood: Searching for values in a competitive age, published on 5 February 2009.