4 Jun 2018

10 year olds who frequently argue with their mother are significantly more likely to develop mental health problems by the time they are 14, a new report from The Children’s Society and Barnardo’s has found. 

Half of all mental health problems start by age 14 and the charities wanted to find out which of the issues affecting children about to move up to secondary school were most strongly linked to mental ill health later on.

Researchers at the University of Essex analysed data from more than 12,000 children discovered that 10-11 year olds who argued with their mother ‘most days’ or said they didn’t feel supported by their family were four times more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, by the time they were 14-15 years old. Around 1 in 10 (11%) UK children aged 10-11 habitually argue with their mother and 1 in 6 (17%) don’t feel supported by their family in most aspects of their life.

Although less than 1 in 20 (4%) of 10-11 year old children are bullied a few times each week, the impact is stark: they are 19 times more likely to have mental health problems by the time they are 14, than those who aren’t bullied.

Children’s worries about their appearances too should not be readily dismissed, the research revealed: children unhappy with their appearance as 10 year olds are three times more likely to exhibit mental ill health at 14 compared with those who are happy with their appearance. Around 1 in 10 (8%) of 10-11 year olds are unhappy with their appearance.

The Children’s Society Chief Executive, Matthew Reed, said: “The relationships that children have with their family, their peers at school and how they view themselves are cornerstones of their future mental health.

“These findings reveal just how important it is to spot children’s problems at home, at school and with self-esteem early on and make sure that children and their families get the right support as they make the move up to secondary school.”

Barnardo’s Chief Executive, Javed Khan, said: “Teenagers often can’t access the right support when they’re struggling to cope at home or at school. It’s vital that problems are identified early so they don’t get worse later on.

“Schools, parents, carers and professionals should be given the tools to recognise and respond to issues troubling children while they are still at primary school, and make sure they are supported in the transition to secondary school.

“Barnardo’s works with schools through programmes like Paths Plus, to develop children’s emotional literacy and resilience, which are the building blocks for wellbeing.

“We believe all primary schools should have the skills and resource they need to boost social and emotional learning.”

The charities are calling for the Government to train new school mental health leads to spot and act on problems that can harm children’s mental health early on and to invest in more advice and services for parents worried about their teenagers’ mental health. 

Notes to editors

  • Data is from the Understanding Society youth survey of 10 to 15-year-olds. Understanding Society isa large scale household longitudinal survey that was designed to represent the UK population in 2009-10 (Knies, 2016). Waves 1-5 correspond to the calendar years 2009-2014. Respondents are interviewed annually, at approximately the same time in the year. Whilst the main questionnaire is asked to all adult (aged 16 or over) members of the sampled household, the youth questionnaire is self-completed by 10 to 15-year-olds in the household, with consent from both the children and their parents. The sample size is 12,985 children.
  • 10-11 year old children who quarrelled ‘most days’ with their mother were 4.1 times more likely to have mental ill health at age 14-15 compared with 10 year olds who ‘hardly ever’ quarrelled with their mother. The sample size for children in conflict with fathers was too small to use for this analysis.
  • Children who feel supported by their family only in ‘some’ of the things they do (16%) or do not feel supported (1%) at age 10-11 are 4 times more likely to have mental ill health aged 14-15 compared with those who feel supported in most or all things by their family.
  • Children who are bullied a few times every week aged 10-11, were found to be 19 times more likely to have mental health problems by the time they are 14-15, than those who aren’t bullied aged 10-11.
  • Children unhappy with their appearance aged 10-11 are 3.1 times more likely to exhibit mental ill health at 14-15 compared with those who are happy with their appearance.


About The Children’s Society
The Children’s Society is a national charity that works with the most vulnerable children and young people in Britain today. We listen. We support. We act. Because no child should feel alone.

About Barnardo’s

Last year 272,000 children, young people and families were supported by Barnardo’s through more than 1,000 services across the UK, such as young carers, care leavers, foster carers and adoptive parents, training and skills or parenting classes.

We work to transform the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children and every year we help thousands of families to build a better future. But we cannot do it without you.

Visit www.barnardos.org.uk to find out how you can get involved. Registered charity No. 216250 and SC037605

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