29 Aug 2018

Nearly a quarter of girls aged 14 (22%) said they had self-harmed in just a year according to a new report by The Children’s Society

One in six (16%) of more than 11,000 children surveyed reported self-harming at this age, including nearly one in 10 boys (9%).

The self-harm statistics follow new analysis included in the charity’s annual Good Childhood Report, which examines the state of children’s well-being in the UK.  The report looks at the reasons behind the unhappiness which increases the risk of children self-harming.

Based on these figures, The Children’s Society estimates that nearly 110,000 children aged 14 may have self-harmed across the UK during the same 12-month period, including 76,000 girls and 33,000 boys.

One young person told the charity: “I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do.  I think there is help for young people but not the right kind of help.

“Feeling not pretty enough or good enough as other girls did contribute towards my self-harming, however, I don’t feel just being a girl is the reason as I think boys feel the same way too”.

Attraction

Almost half of 14-year-olds who said they had been attracted to people of the same gender or both genders said they had self-harmed (46%), analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey revealed.  Four in ten of these children had shown signs of depression (38%) and three in ten had low well-being (30%) - both compared with one in ten (11 per cent) of all children.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive at The Children’s Society, said: “It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming.

“Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.”

The Children’s Society’s new Good Childhood survey of 10-17-year-old children and their parents across 2,000 households, which is also part of the report, found children were least happy with school and their appearance.

 It asked children about their experiences of school.  Nearly a quarter (24%) said they heard jokes or comments about other people’s bodies or looks all of the time, while more than a fifth (22%) of those in secondary school said jokes or comments were often made about people’s sexual activity.   Both made girls feel much worse about their appearance and less happy with their life as a whole, but this pattern did not apply to boys.

Stereotypes 

The research also suggests both boys and girls can be harmed by gender stereotypes and pressure to live up to these expectations. 

Children felt under pressure from friends to be good looking but those who felt boys should be tough and girls should have nice clothes were least happy with life.

The report suggests that happiness with family relationships could be the best protection for children because it has the biggest positive influence on their overall well-being.

Matthew Reed added: “It’s vital that children’s well-being is taken more seriously and that much more is done to tackle the root causes of their unhappiness and support their mental health.

“Schools can play an important part in this and that is why we want the Government to make it a requirement for all secondary schools to offer access to a counsellor, regularly monitor children’s well-being and have their mental health provision assessed as part of Ofsted inspections.

“Issues like appearance, gender stereotypes and sexuality should be included in the new Relationships and Sex Education curriculum.

“However, early support for vulnerable children and families in the community, which can help prevent mental health problems from developing, is also vital, and ministers must urgently address the £2bn funding shortfall facing council children’s services departments by 2020.”

Media enquiries

For more information, please contact The Children’s Society media team on 0207 841 4422 or media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

 Notes to editors

  • A summary of the Good Childhood Report 2018 is available via this link
  • An interactive version of the Good Childhood Report 2018 is available via this link.
  • Analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey also found that of 620 children who had been attracted to the same sex and the opposite sex, (572 children) and the same same (48 children) 283 children, or 46%, had self-harmed. The statistic showing that three in ten children had low well-being represents the proportion who scored below five out of 10 in response to a question asking how happy they were with life as a whole.
  • Research for the Good Childhood Report is carried out jointly with the University of York.
  • The Millennium Cohort Survey follows the lives of children born in the UK in 2000-01 and our new analysis is of the most recent findings, which asked 11,144 children including 5,520 boys and 5,624 girls about their lives when they were 14 in 2015.  It is representative of the whole of the UK, including deprived areas and areas with high concentrations of black and Asian families.  See www.cls.ioe.ac.uk.
  • New analysis of the Millennium Cohort Survey and a question in which children were asked whether they had hurt themselves on purpose in any way in the past year shows that 15.5% of children, or 1,727 children, had self-harmed in last year, including 22% of girls – 1,237 girls, and 9.2% of boys – 508 boys.
  • The national estimates for the total number of 14-year-olds who may have self-harmed over the same 12-month period are calculated by applying the proportions of children who said they had self-harmed in the Millennium Cohort Survey to ONS mid-year population estimates for 2015, the most recent period for which figures are available. ONS estimated there were 707,888 children aged 14 in the UK, including 361,698 boys and 346,190 girls.
  • Of 620 children who had been attracted to the same sex and the opposite sex, (572 children) and the same sex (48 children) 283 children, or 46%, had self-harmed. The statistic showing that three in ten children had low well-being represents the proportion who scored below five out of 10 in response to a question asking how happy they were with life as a whole.
  • The Good Childhood Report also draws on The Children’s Society’s annual survey of 10-17-year-old children and their parents from 2,000 socio-economically representative households in England, Scotland and Wales; and Understanding Society, a survey of children aged 10-15 and adults from 40,000 UK households from which data has also been combined with that from the British Household Panel Survey.  See www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/about and https://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/bhps
  • Understanding Society shows that children are less happy than they were in 2009/10 with life as a whole and friends, but happier with school work.  On average, children remain least happy with their appearance but improvements in their happiness with appearance in 2014/15 and 2015/16 arrested a decline in this regard and indicate children are now no longer any unhappier with their appearance than they were in 2009/10.  Only time will tell whether this is the beginning of a more significant trend.
  • 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.