Being out and about with friends is an essential part of teenagers' lives: having a kick about in the park, going to the cinema, or even just the walk home from school. But The Children's Society's latest Good Childhood Report reveals that for millions of children, this quintessential experience is being overshadowed by worries about falling victim to crime. At a time when children should be asserting their independence, some are afraid to walk down the street.
We estimate that 2.2 million children are fearful of crime, but they may be worried about different things. One in three teenage girls told us they're worried about being followed by a stranger and one in four boys said that they're afraid they'll be assaulted.
We're all affected by our surroundings and feeling safe is an important part of wellbeing. From our research it's clear that these fears about crime are affecting children's wellbeing, and that means that action must be taken to address them.
We urge councils, schools, police and others to work together with young people in their area to understand the issues they're facing and how they can address them. When we've talked to children about feeling safe in their local areas, some of the ideas they've come up with are as simple as improving street lighting, tidying up run down areas and identifying hotspots for anti-social behaviours. Little things can make a big difference.
What our research has also uncovered is that for 1 million teenagers fear of crime could be just one of the more than seven issues that they're contending with in their lives; this is making them on average ten times unhappier than teenagers who don't face any of the issues we identified.
We know from our frontline work with teenagers that the problem they've presented with can often just be the tip of the iceberg and that they are having to shoulder complex, interwoven problems day in and day out. As well as being worried about having to walk through that dark alley on your way home from school, you might also be going home to a chronically ill parent who's struggling to make ends meet, behind on the bills, and now your family is at risk of eviction. It's easy to see why the more pressures children are facing, the unhappier they are.
Low wellbeing in our teenagers should concern us all. It can be a predictor for mental health problems, risky behaviour, low attainment and a myriad of other negative outcomes for children. But all too often children who are in desperate need of support don't get help until they reach crisis point - such as going missing, getting into trouble with the police or misusing drugs or alcohol - when earlier intervention could have prevented this.
With children's services under increasing pressure from rising need while funding falls, we're calling on the government to prioritise children's services in the Autumn Statement and urgently address the funding shortfall, which is predicted to reach £2bn by 2020.
Children's worries should never be belittled or dismissed and it's really important that the government, councils and other agencies demonstrate that when it comes to children's wellbeing, they're listening.