The Children's Society launched its landmark Good Childhood Report 2012 today. The culmination of seven years of research involving 30,000 eight to 16-year-olds, it reveals that at any moment half a million children across the UK are unhappy with their lives.
Why is this important? It's important because young people with low well-being are deeply unhappy about essential aspects of their lives. They aren't just reacting to the ups and downs of daily life. For some, this can lead to serious long-term complications such as eating disorders and depression, a huge personal cost to them and their families and ultimately to society as a whole.
Our aim is to make sure that every child has a good childhood. Which is why The Children's Society is calling for a radical new approach to childhood. As a society, children's well-being must be placed at the heart of everything we do.
We have identified six key priorities needed for a happy childhood and are calling on government and other decision-makers to make sure these are adopted.
Children need a variety of things to flourish, all of them eminently achievable. The right conditions to learn and develop, a positive view of themselves and a respect for their identity, enough of the items and experiences that matter to them, positive relationships with their family and friends, a safe and suitable home environment and local area and the opportunity to take part in positive activities that help them thrive.
Our report also reveals that choice and family have the biggest impact on children's happiness. It is not the structure, but the relationships within a family that children care about. Loving relationships between a child and their family are 10 times more powerful than family structure in increasing well-being. Put simply, if a child has a loving and secure relationship with his or her family members, whether this is a lone parent and no siblings or both parents and several brothers and sisters, then they are likely to be significantly happier.
Stability is also important. Children who experience a change in family members they are living with are twice as likely to experience low well-being.
Financial issues, of course, have an impact. Children as young as eight are aware of the financial issues their families face, especially if their financial situation changes dramatically, such as a parent losing their job. Children from lower income households are, somewhat inevitably, likely to have lower well-being.
However the report also highlights that children do not want to have lots of money and possessions. One of the key findings is that children like to be similar to their friends; children who have a lot less or even a lot more pocket money than their friends have lower levels of well-being.
It certainly isn't all doom and gloom. Most of our children are happy with their lives. But if at any point in time half a million eight to 16-year-olds are unhappy, then we have to accept that as a society that we are simply not doing enough. We need to "rethink childhood" and make sure that their futures are at the heart of our decisions.