Posted: 27 August 2020

Fear of failure and friendship worries: how young people are feeling in 2020

Modern life has been chipping away at children’s happiness over time. Our latest Good Childhood Report finds this toxic trend continues. Young people in the UK are among the unhappiest in Europe, worried about failure, friendships and their appearance.

Here's a summary of our key findings:

Children’s well-being is still in decline

Over the past ten years, there has been a significant decrease in children’s happiness with life as a whole. We have also seen a fall in children’s happiness with their friends, school and happiness with appearance.

These toxic trends in children’s well-being started well before ‘lockdown’, suggesting there was already much work to do to improve children’s lives.

There are high levels of fear of failure

We compared the well-being of children in the UK to children in 23 other European countries. Our findings were not good. Even before the pandemic, 15-year-olds in the UK were among the saddest and least satisfied with their lives in Europe.

When we explored possible explanations for this, we found strong evidence of a connection across countries between fear of failure and life satisfaction. We also found evidence that rising rates of child poverty in this country may be playing a role.

Children are less happy with their friends 

Children’s happiness with friends has again decreased, continuing a trend that we have reported in every Good Childhood Report since 2015. This downward trend is concerning, and so we looked into what might be going on. 

We looked at the impact of age, gender and ethnicity, as well as the number of close friends children said that they had to turn to. Worryingly, approximately 132,000 children said they had no close friends they could talk to if they are in trouble.

When we asked children and young people why they thought someone might be unhappy with their friends and what they think good friendships look like, they told us friendships are complex.

'you have to put time and effort into your friendship'

Well-being at heart of Government policy

Young people are telling us what needs to change, and we must listen. As we recover from the pandemic, we have a chance to hit restart and focus on improving children’s well-being.

We are calling for the government to put children’s well-being at the heart of our national recovery. To do so we must have national measurement of children’s well-being. Understanding issues what is going on for children is the first step to improving their lives. Without asking children how they feel, we cannot create effective policies that will result in positive change. We have to listen to our young people.

Help us to put children’s well-being at the top of the political agenda by emailing you MP to ask the Government to prioritise children's well-being.


By Charlotte Rainer - Policy team

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