As children grow older they spend less time with their parents and more with other children. If they develop good friendships at this stage, they are on their way to happy, fulfilled lives. But the number of 16 year olds saying they have a best friend they can really trust has dropped. Between 1986 and 2006 the rate fell from 87% to 82%, a trend that was evident for both boys and girls.

Schoolchildren

Children who make friends early do better. They have greater moral sensibility and better understanding of social relationships. They are also more popular, less bullied and less aggressive. Unfortunately some children are unpopular and they will tend to associate with other children who reinforce each others’ aggression.

Friendship is about exploring beyond family. Yet parents are increasingly afraid to let children explore the outside world unsupervised. Thirty-nine per cent of adults went out unsupervised before their 11th birthday, according to a representative survey. But only 17% of the same adults believed today’s children should be allowed to do so.

There are various reasons for these changes: parents fear the abduction or murder of their child. But such events are incredibly rare. Murders of children by strangers average around one a year in Britain. The annual risk of murder by a stranger is one per million and of abduction six per million. This compares with 2400 children per million who are injured in a road accident.

The problem is that television and the newspapers now bring us the minutest details of every tragic event, so that murders are now much more salient in people’s minds. We need to restore a sense of balance.

Yet there are fewer places where children can play safely. We can hardly be surprised when our children become obese, if we build over open spaces.

Once past puberty romantic friendships are an important feature of young people’s lives. The age at which people have their first sexual experience has fallen dramatically. For women it dropped from 21 in 1953 to 16 in 1998. Teenage pregnancies are higher in the UK than anywhere in Western Europe, at 27 per 1000 compared to only five in the Netherlands. This is the product of many forces including: more privacy when both parents work, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation and a fundamental shift in attitude toward pre-marital sex.

Children's evidence

You can't have a good childhood without friends, every child needs friends. Lots of friends to confide and talking is what young people need for a good life
- 12-year old girl

I would try and stop ALL bullying!!!
- 11-year-old girl

Some parentas dont let kids go outsdie and play whith their friends.
- 8-year-old boy

Read The Children's Society's view on friends