26 Jun 2015

More than a third of 16 and 17 year olds are so anxious that they have suffered sleepless nights in the last year, according to new research from The Children’s Society.

Seriously Awkward, launched today, reveals that we are in danger of creating a ‘worried generation’ of 16 and 17 year olds, with one in three (34%) saying they frequently feel anxious and a quarter (25%) reporting they often feel sad. One in four say they do not feel optimistic about the future.

The report, based on an Opinium poll of over 1,000 16 and 17 year olds across the UK, and new analysis, shows two in three (69%) said they felt judged simply for being a teenager.

And the concern is mirrored among parents. Seven in ten (70%) parents agree that life is tougher for teenagers now than it was for them.

The Children’s Society’s new Seriously Awkward campaign highlights the huge challenges that 16 and 17 year olds face. They are more likely to go missing or be a victim of violent crime than any other age group and they are at a high risk of sexual exploitation and domestic violence. 

Yet they are being systematically let down by the law and don’t get the same basic safeguards as younger children. For instance, while laws exist to protect 16 and 17 year olds against specific incidents such as assault or sexual offences, there is no catch-all law to protect them from sustained child cruelty and neglect in the same way as there is for younger children.

The charity is lobbying for a change in the law to protect children aged 16 and 17 from abuse and neglect, and to ensure that support services, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health services, always treat them as children and offer them support when they need it.

An estimated half a million 16 and 17 year olds face particular risk of harm because they are already dealing with multiple issues such as poverty, poor health or a lack of supportive relationships.

Beatrice Morris, 17, a student from London says: 'I've had anxiety and depression throughout my teens. At my lowest ebb, I was surviving on two hours sleep at night and was self-harming. It took years for me to get the mental health support I needed.

'Teenagers are under so much pressure. We’re constantly being told by society that we are lazy or up to no good and at the same time we’re also expected to do well and get a job or go to university.

'But the odds are stacked against us. The cost of going to university has rocketed up, salaries are low and most people my age aren’t hopeful about the future. At 16 and 17 we’re expected to be resilient and behave like adults but we don’t have the same rights as adults and can’t make our voices heard.'

At the time when these teenagers need the most help, support for things such as mental health or housing  is woefully inadequate and they often fall through the gaps between children’s and adult services. The lack of provision for teenagers with mental health problems means many are placed on adult mental health wards or, in some cases, have even been detained in police cells.

And almost half (45%) of 16 and 17-year-olds asking their council for help with homelessness are turned away without being assessed for support.

Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, says: 'This research reveals that a generation of teenagers are being let down by society. Many are struggling with a range of issues but are dismissed as resilient enough to cope, and denied the same legal protection and services as younger children. 

'For the most vulnerable teenagers, those suffering from abuse, neglect and homelessness, and mental health issues, the future can be even more bleak. All children including those aged 16 and 17 should feel safe and supported and that’s why we’re urgently calling on the Government to change the law to protect all 16 and 17 year olds from abuse and neglect, provide better services to support them, and offer special protection for those who are most vulnerable.'

There is a misconception that teenagers do not require as much protection as younger children. But they are so often more in need of help than any other age group. They have greater freedom than younger children which can put them in potentially risky situations such as being exposed to drugs, alcohol or adults who intend them harm.

Teenagers suffering abuse and neglect may be overlooked by children’s services because they are deemed older and more resilient but lack financial independence to remove themselves from harmful situations.

For more information or to sign a petition to change the law to protect 16 and 17 year olds, visit the Seriously Awkward campaign webpage.


Media enquiries

For further information, please contact Catherine Jones, Senior Media Officer, The Children’s Society 020 7841 4420 or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk.

For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.

Notes to Editors

  • Download the full report or summary report of Seriously Awkward 
  • Results are based on an online Opinium poll of 1,004 16 and 17 year olds and 1,004 parents in Great Britain, conducted in April 2014
  • 1 in 4 16 and 17 year olds do not feel optimistic about the future according to analysis of Understanding Society data