Children and young people
The findings from the latest Good Childhood Report highlight some of the challenges facing children and young people’s wellbeing.
- There has been a continued decrease in average happiness with life among 10-15 year olds in the UK.
- Happiness with friends is in decline.
- 15-year olds in the UK were among the saddest and least satisfied with their lives in Europe.
- The Coronavirus pandemic affected children’s happiness due to the lack of choice they had in life.
Children’s happiness with life has been in decline for most of the last decade and this year is no exception. Worries about relationships with friends, appearance and school seem to be key factors. Even before the pandemic, 15-year-olds in the UK were among the saddest and least satisfied with their lives in Europe.
Protective factors and positive impacts on children’s wellbeing
- Having a trusted adult, supportive friends and regular weekly sport is protective in times of difficult life events, according to the Public Health Wales Adverse Childhood Experience and resilience report.
- Children’s happiness with their family has also remained high, on average, and the majority of parents reported that their relationship with their children had remined the same, with over a quarter saying it had improved during the lockdown that began in March.
- The majority of children spent some time outside in green and natural places at least a couple of times per week – this matters because there is evidence that access – and use of – green and blue spaces is good for our wellbeing.
Our work to improve and protect children’s wellbeing
We are collaborating with The Children’s Society – funded by the Health Foundation – to create a resources and an easily accessible database of metrics and instruments that are suitable for measuring children’s subjective wellbeing.
The resources and metrics database will help practitioners from government, voluntary, community, social enterprise, and private sectors. It will also support academic and research organisations that wish to measure children’s subjective wellbeing, or contribute to the evidence base using one or more valid indicators.
We will be sharing updates and more information of this project over the coming months. Please sign up to receive our weekly email alert to find out more.
Click the ‘read more’ button below to see how Covid-19 has impacted children and young people’s wellbeing.
- You can sign up to receive this eight-week email series looking at how Covid-19 has affected different groups, and how a wellbeing-centred recovery can help them.
We’ve been crowdsourcing evidence and it suggests that age is important when we’re thinking about the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. While children and young people are at lower risk of suffering serious symptoms from acute Covid-19 disease, their wellbeing has been affected in other important ways and can have longer term impacts.
We don’t yet have comprehensive wellbeing data collected regularly in schools, so we’ve done our best to round up the impact on children and young people from age 0-24. There are a lot of different experiences across these age groups and adults can sometimes see things differently to young people themselves, so do add more information to the crowdsourcing if you can.
- The greatest increase in mental distress was among those aged 18-24, one month into lockdown. Similarly, young people were more likely than adults to report that the lockdown was making their mental health worse.
- Nearly three-quarters of young people (72%) identify loneliness as a reason for the drop in their mental health.
- Higher than usual levels of stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms and fear have also been found in younger children, partly explained by the lack of outdoor activities. Other studies report increased emotional, behavioural and attentional difficulties among primary school-aged children during lockdown.
Activities and opportunities
- Children and young people reported their levels of physical activity dropped during lockdown. In 2018/19 Sport England reported the proportion of children doing less than 30 min of physical activity per day was approximately 29%. During the pandemic this percentage oscillated between 40 and 50%, with 10% of children doing no physical activity at all. Studies from overseas suggest that reduced physical activity among children and teenagers during the lockdown was accompanied by reduced time outdoors and increased screen-time.
- Young people in low income areas of England and Wales reported missing taking part in team sports and the social benefits of exercising with friends. Many also highlighted a lack of access to space as reasons why their levels of physical activity dropped.
- The experience of younger children during lockdown may have been different. According to a survey by EduKit of pupils in England, younger children were doing more daily exercise and eating more healthily than older pupils. Positively, children in deprived areas of Wales were reported to be eating more fruit and less takeaways.
- Lack of motivation, lack of guidance and support, and lack of access to internet or electronic devices for learning in the case of low income areas, were some of the most common reasons adults with dependent children gave as to why their children struggled with education and homeschooling.
- A longitudinal study of pupil learning and wellbeing during Covid-19 found half of pupils felt they had a routine for home working that enabled them to learn effectively.
- Fewer than 60% reported that they could receive support from their families if they had trouble with their work or got stuck with learning; and about 30% reported not having a quiet place to work.
- Uncertainty over exams and qualifications (58%) and the effect on the quality of their education (46%) were the main concerns expressed by young students (16-29).
Relationships with friends and family
- Lockdown was particularly damaging for children and young people’s social lives. Over three quarters said their inability to socialise with friends and family was their biggest concern at the time. In May, nearly half of the youngest children (aged two to four) were reported to be spending no time playing with other children in their household.
- Feelings of loneliness have been widespread during the pandemic, with young people (aged 18-24) experiencing this acutely. 44% of young people reported they felt lonely during the lockdown, compared to 24% of older adults. Other data reports a 63% increase in feelings of loneliness among young people, compared to the previous year. Loneliness has also been a major concern among younger children: over 800,000 pupils at state schools in England report feeling lonely ‘very often’.
- Kooth, a digital support service for young people, saw a 30% increase from last year in the proportion of children and young people expressing concerns about strains in family relationships.
- Younger people are less likely to have experienced social cohesion and support among their neighbours and local communities in lockdown, compared to those aged 65 or over.
- From a more positive perspective, more than a quarter of parents – especially mothers – reported that their relationship with their children has improved since the lockdown, while less than 5% reported it had become worse. Improvements in parent-child relationships are partly explained by the greater time invested in caring and home schooling (up to 30 hours a week).
Young adults’ financial wellbeing
- Young people are among those at higher risk of job loss due to Covid-19. The Resolution Foundation notes that an additional 640,000 people aged 18-24 could find themselves unemployed over the coming year. This group is also more likely to have experienced a negative labour market outcome compared to those aged 35-44.
- Household incomes have fallen, particularly among young and low-earning workers. Indeed, 16% of 18 to 24 year olds have been unable to isolate as much as they would like because of financial concerns (compared with 11% of 55 to 64 year olds). Young people may have also found it difficult to cut back on spending because they have usually spent a lower proportion of their budget on goods and services that are not essential.
Why this matters for wellbeing and wellbeing inequalities
All the negative impacts noted above can be linked to each other:
- Loneliness and social isolation can have longer-term consequences for children’s mental health and physical health.
- Public Health Wales identified that having a trusted adult, supportive friends and regular sport can help children cope with difficult life events. We know that physical activity and sport improves health, which improves overall life satisfaction. This continues into adulthood with our health – physical and mental – as the top driver of adult life satisfaction at 34.
- Lower life satisfaction impacts the probability of finding a job after leaving education where there are already variations for some young people depending on ethnicity and gender.
- Those with poor mental health are at greater risk of being out of work or unemployed.
In turn, mental health difficulties can affect children’s academic attainment, and being less fit also can impact their learning. Adolescents are at a unique period in their lives when the social environment is important for crucial functions in brain development, self-identity, and mental health.
According to the Good Childhood Report, children’s sense of purpose, particularly in relation to school and academic achievement, has been declining over the last decade. These trends are at risk of being exacerbated by the pandemic and the subsequent widening of wellbeing inequalities between age groups.
There are other demographic, social, and economic factors that can also put specific groups of children and young people at higher risk of poor wellbeing than others.
- For instance, while girls tend to have lower wellbeing than boys, evidence suggests that boys have seen a bigger fall in life satisfaction since lockdown.
- The risk of worsening mental health is said to be higher for children with pre-existing mental health conditions, or those exposed to abuse and domestic violence prior to the pandemic.
- Being part of minority ethnic groups, lower income households and/or being separated from parents and carers make young people more likely to experience mental health difficulties during these times.
- Overcrowded homes, lack of green spaces and poor quality environments can negatively impact the physical health of young people in isolation and these conditions are more common among people from low-income urban households and from Black and minority ethnicity groups.
- Similarly, educational impacts are more likely to affect those from the most deprived schools and lower-income families, either because they have limited space to study at home, less access to learning devices, or less support from parents and carers for homeschooling. In fact, projections suggested that school closures would have widened the attainment gap between disadvantaged children and their peers by 36%.
- Financial insecurity and unemployment effects can be more severe among young people with fewer qualifications, those recently leaving education and those with student loans.
- In terms of relationships, we know being young has always been a risk factor for loneliness, but other risk factors may compound this, such as being from low income households, being inactive, or having pre-existing mental health conditions.