Childhood in crisis: Almost two thirds of parents and grandparents say childhood getting worse - and nearly two million children in the UK agree

Posted by / Tuesday 09 July 2019 /
young boy looking at camera
  • Landmark survey reveals three generations of families across the UK fear childhoods are getting worse
  • Vast numbers of children worry about ‘adult issues’ like Brexit and violent crime, whilst bullying – online and offline - emerged as the top obstacle to a good childhood
  • In its 150th year of helping children, Action for Children warns of an emerging childhood crisis, with young people facing unparalleled social pressures at the same time as a drastic reduction in children’s services
  • The charity is calling on the Government to establish a National Childhood Strategy that puts children first and keeps them safe from harm

Action for Children is warning of a crisis emerging in modern childhoods, as a major survey[i] today reveals children, parents and grandparents fear childhoods are getting worse.[ii]

As young people face unparalleled social pressures and a collapse in investment from the government in children’s services, Action for Children with YouGov explored the biggest issues affecting childhood today through comprehensive research across three UK generations.

The research, involving discussion groups and a quantitative survey of 5,000 children and adults, showed the majority of grandparents (62%), parents (60%) and children (34%) say childhoods today are getting worse.

All three generations agreed bullying is the biggest problem preventing a good childhood, as children deal with it online, as well as inside and outside school. And in an age of intensive social media use, ‘too much pressure to fit in’ also came out as a top concern for adults and children alike.[iii]

With politics in turmoil, 91% of children – some as young as eleven – say they are worrying about ‘adult issues’. These included Brexit (38%), while half of all children surveyed are worried about poverty and homelessness, closely followed by fears over terrorism (49%). The environment (48%) and issues surrounding inequality (such as sexism and racism – 41%) also came out as key worries for almost half of youngsters surveyed.[iv]

The research also revealed where older generations are out of touch with children’s concerns. While children say pressure at school is one of the top three problems facing childhood, adults seem to be more concerned about screen time than children. And parents and grandparents significantly underestimate children’s personal fears around being a victim of crime, such as knife crime or terrorism, and the state of their mental health.[v]

With the UK’s most vulnerable youngsters hit hardest by the growing childhood crisis[vi], Action for Children is launching a new campaign today called ‘Choose Childhood’ as it marks its 150th year.

Action for Children’s chief executive Julie Bentley said: What we want is for every child and young person in the country to have a safe and happy childhood with the foundations they need to thrive. The country is sleepwalking into a crisis in childhood and, far from being carefree, our children are buckling under the weight of unprecedented social pressures, global turmoil and a void in government policy which should keep them well and safe.

“Our research shows children worry about poverty, homelessness and terrorism and the vulnerable children we work with every day are facing traumas like domestic abuse or neglect, going hungry or struggling with their mental health, without the support they desperately need.

“For the past decade, the government has been asleep on the job when it comes to investing in our children. The next Prime Minister must wake up to this growing crisis and put our children first. We want to see the establishment of a National Childhood Strategy, so departments right across government can get a grip on these issues, backed with funding to deliver urgently needed services to keep children safe from harm.”

 

Case study

Cathal (15) from Newcastle, Northern Ireland, was helped with his mental health by Action for Children after feeling unable to ‘fit in’ and cope with the pressures of social media. His mother Mandy (48) and his grandfather Dessie (71) are worried that children are facing new and intense stresses in modern childhood.

 

Cathal said:I’ve been in low places and I just want to make sure that I never get in that state again. I just didn’t like anything about myself. It is so hard with social media and peer pressure to look perfect. We’re all expected to one up one another and it makes everything more stressful. I think it stopped me enjoying being a kid.

 

“In school we have so much pressure too and exams are everything. You feel that if you fail them, your whole life is over. I got interested in current events and politics at 13 – the generation who is making these choices won’t be around for the consequences and it’s us that will have to bite the bullet. There’s no investment in schools or support given to children for mental health and other things and it’s such a shame.”

 

Mandy said:If Cathal hadn’t had help from Action for Children, he wouldn’t be here today to tell his story. Childhood is getting worse and kids know so much more about the world – worrying about things I never knew about. When I was young we lived our childhood, we played with our dolls, our bikes and our scooters. You didn’t have the peer pressures and the internet to affect you.”

 

Dessie said: “I don’t really think they have a childhood nowadays. They worry about “adult” issues so much more. If you didn’t pass exams when I was young you could still have a successful life, but now you’re painted as a failure if you don’t get into university. On the internet they’re dragged into websites where they can be encouraged to commit suicide.

 

“For the last three years, politics has been completely tied up by Brexit, so nobody’s been worried about children or schools – it’s brushed under the rug.  Nobody listens to kids anymore and that’s the sad truth.”

 

 

ENDS

Media contacts

Action for Children press office: 07802 806 679 / [email protected]

Freya Barnes, Head of Media: 07540 920 038 / [email protected]

 

Infographic

children worried about adult issues 

[i] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc which conducted three UK online surveys. (i) Children aged 11 to 18. Total sample size was 2082. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 20th March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK children (aged 11 to 18). (ii) Parents of children aged 11 to 18. Total sample size was 1,559. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5 and 12 March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). (iii) Grandparents with grandchildren aged 11 to 18. Total sample size 1,379. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6 and 12 March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 50+).

[ii] The question in all three surveys was: ‘Overall, do you think childhoods today are better or worse than when your parent(s)/ carer(s) were a child, or do you think they are about the same?’. Respondents could select from: ‘Childhoods today are better’, ‘About the same’, ‘Childhoods today are worse’, ‘I don’t know’. ‘Childhoods today are worse’ was the most frequently selected by all respondent types.

[iii] The question in all three surveys was: ‘In general, which of these do you think stop children from having a good childhood nowadays?’. Respondents were allowed to select as many answers as they liked from 13 options. The top three responses selected by young people were: ‘Being bullied’ (61%), ‘Too much pressure from school’ (60%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (55%). For parents the top three responses were: ‘Being bullied’ (63%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (59%), ‘Too much time spent on electronic devices and social media’ (57%). For grandparents the top three responses were: ‘Being bullied’ (69%), ‘Too much time spent on electronic devices and social media’ (60%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (57%).

[iv] The question asked to young people was: ‘Now thinking about current events going on in the world…Which of these current events do you worry about?’. Respondents were allowed to choose as many answers as they liked from a list of 12 options. The top five answers chosen were: people suffering because they don’t have enough money (50%), terrorism (49%), the environment (48%), people not being treated equally (41%), Brexit (38%).

[v] The question asked to young people was: ‘Which of these do you worry about?’. The question we asked parents and grandparents was: ‘Which of these do you think your child/ grandchild worry about?’. Respondents were allowed to select as many answers as they liked from 15 options. 29% of young people selected ‘My own mental health’, compared to 17% of parents and 9% of grandparents. 27% of young people selected ‘Being a victim of crime when I am out (e.g. knife crime, terrorism, robbery)’, compared to 14% of parents and grandparents.

[vi] Wider statistics on childhood crisis:

  • Every 15 minutes a child is moved in to care for their own safety. (Calculations made by Action for Children using Department for Education In England, Wales and Northern Ireland 35,058 children entered care in the year ending 31 March 2018. In Scotland 4,063 children entered care in the year ending 31 July 2018. Combined this is a UK total of 39,121 children. The rate is calculated based on number entering care divided by the number of days in a year. This is then divided by the number of hours in a day. Then divided by the number of minutes in an hour and multiplied by 15).
  • The number of children living in poverty in the UK has risen to 4.1 million in 2017/18 (Department for Work and Pensions, 2019).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, there was a 38 per cent increase in the number of children on a child protection plan in England (Department for Education, 2018).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of children in need due to abuse and neglect in England (Department for Education, 2018).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 there has been a 17 per cent increase in the number of children in care in England (Department for Education, 2019).
  • Available funding for local authority children’s services in England decreased by £3 billion (29 per cent) between 2010/11 and 2017/18 (Action for Children et al., 2019).
  • Children who spend more than three hours using social networking sites on a school day are more than twice as likely to have symptoms of mental ill health than those who spend no time on social sites (27 percent, compared to 12 per cent) (ONS, 2015).
  • One third (33%) of the 5,000 secondary school pupils assessed by Action for Children as part of our Blues programme were suffering from mental health and emotional wellbeing issues (Action for Children, 2018).

[1] There are 5,866,982 children aged 11 to 18 in the UK, according to the ONS. 33.88% of this number equates to 1,987,734 children (rounded). Calculations made by Action for Children

[2] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc which conducted three UK online surveys. (i) Children aged 11 to 18. Total sample size was 2082. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th - 20th March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK children (aged 11 to 18). (ii) Parents of children aged 11 to 18. Total sample size was 1,559. Fieldwork was undertaken between 5 and 12 March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). (iii) Grandparents with grandchildren aged 11 to 18. Total sample size 1,379. Fieldwork was undertaken between 6 and 12 March 2019. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 50+).

[3] The question in all three surveys was: ‘Overall, do you think childhoods today are better or worse than when your parent(s)/ carer(s) were a child, or do you think they are about the same?’. Respondents could select from: ‘Childhoods today are better’, ‘About the same’, ‘Childhoods today are worse’, ‘I don’t know’. ‘Childhoods today are worse’ was the most frequently selected by all respondent types.

[4] The question in all three surveys was: ‘In general, which of these do you think stop children from having a good childhood nowadays?’. Respondents were allowed to select as many answers as they liked from 13 options. The top three responses selected by young people were: ‘Being bullied’ (61%), ‘Too much pressure from school’ (60%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (55%). For parents the top three responses were: ‘Being bullied’ (63%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (59%), ‘Too much time spent on electronic devices and social media’ (57%). For grandparents the top three responses were: ‘Being bullied’ (69%), ‘Too much time spent on electronic devices and social media’ (60%), ‘Too much pressure to fit in and look a certain way’ (57%).

[5] The question asked to young people was: ‘Now thinking about current events going on in the world…Which of these current events do you worry about?’. Respondents were allowed to choose as many answers as they liked from a list of 12 options. The top five answers chosen were: people suffering because they don’t have enough money (50%), terrorism (49%), the environment (48%), people not being treated equally (41%), Brexit (38%).

[6] The question asked to young people was: ‘Which of these do you worry about?’. The question we asked parents and grandparents was: ‘Which of these do you think your child/ grandchild worry about?’. Respondents were allowed to select as many answers as they liked from 15 options. 29% of young people selected ‘My own mental health’, compared to 17% of parents and 9% of grandparents. 27% of young people selected ‘Being a victim of crime when I am out (e.g. knife crime, terrorism, robbery)’, compared to 14% of parents and grandparents.

[7] Wider statistics on childhood crisis:

  • Every 15 minutes a child is moved in to care for their own safety. (Calculations made by Action for Children using Department for Education In England, Wales and Northern Ireland 35,058 children entered care in the year ending 31 March 2018. In Scotland 4,063 children entered care in the year ending 31 July 2018. Combined this is a UK total of 39,121 children. The rate is calculated based on number entering care divided by the number of days in a year. This is then divided by the number of hours in a day. Then divided by the number of minutes in an hour and multiplied by 15).
  • The number of children living in poverty in the UK has risen to 4.1 million in 2017/18 (Department for Work and Pensions, 2019).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18, there was a 38 per cent increase in the number of children on a child protection plan in England (Department for Education, 2018).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 there was a 45 per cent increase in the number of children in need due to abuse and neglect in England (Department for Education, 2018).
  • Between 2009/10 and 2017/18 there has been a 17 per cent increase in the number of children in care in England (Department for Education, 2019).
  • Available funding for local authority children’s services in England decreased by £3 billion (29 per cent) between 2010/11 and 2017/18 (Action for Children et al., 2019).
  • Children who spend more than three hours using social networking sites on a school day are more than twice as likely to have symptoms of mental ill health than those who spend no time on social sites (27 percent, compared to 12 per cent) (ONS, 2015).
  • One third (33%) of the 5,000 secondary school pupils assessed by Action for Children as part of our Blues programme were suffering from mental health and emotional wellbeing issues (Action for Children, 2018).