More than a quarter of a million girls in Britain are unhappy with their lives, according to the latest Good Childhood Report.
The picture is even starker when it comes to personal appearance, with the number of 10- to 15-year-old girls who do not feel happy with their looks reaching 700,000 across the UK.
“It is desperately worrying that so many of our young people are suffering rather than thriving,” said Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society.
“Girls are having a particularly tough time and it’s clear that concerted action is needed to tackle this problem.”
The report, which is a collaboration between The Children’s Society and the University of York, uses evidence from a number of sources, including school and household surveys conducted by the charity.
It referenced one teenage girl who explained why it was so hard being a young person.
“There are so many pressures from your friends, from your family,” the anonymous girl said. “You don’t know who you are going to be, you are trying to find who you are in a certain way.”
Another said: “Girls feel pressured by the boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem and makes girls feel ugly or worthless.”
One teenage girl said: “There is a lot of pressure to look good, you get called names no matter what, people always say stuff behind your back, boys always call you ugly if you have spots, or a slag if you wear makeup.”
The concerning part of this report is that the picture for girls is even worse than it was five years previously.
The number of girls who do not feel happy overall was up 21% between 2009/10 and 2013/14. The number of girls unhappy with their appearance in particular was up 8% over the same period.
“There is a lot of pressure to look good. You get called names no matter what.”
In contrast, the proportion of boys aged 10-15 who are unhappy with their lives remained stable at one in nine, while the proportion of boys who say they are unhappy with their appearance hovers around 20%.
The trend builds on findings from the 2015 Good Childhood Report, in which England ranked last out of 15 countries for happiness with appearance.
The report suggested that emotional bullying such as name-calling, which girls are more likely to experience, is twice as common as physical bullying, which is more likely to affect boys.
About half of all children aged 10 to 15 had been bullied at school in the past month, the report found.
This year’s Good Childhood Report highlights the clear link between unhappiness and mental health problems, underlining the importance of tackling low well-being to address mental ill-health.
Boys and girls experience mental health problems in different ways. While boys aged 10 and 11 are less happy than girls with their school work and more likely to experience conduct and attention/hyperactivity problems, girls experience anxiety and depression significantly more than boys – and become increasingly unhappy with their appearance – as they get older.
Separate research by the Office for National Statistics suggests that girls are much more likely to spend extended periods on social media, which has been linked to a higher risk of mental ill-health.
Social media has been linked to poor self-esteem and mental health issues in the past.
An exclusive poll for HuffPost UK’s Young Minds Matter series earlier this year, guest edited by The Duchess of Cambridge, of parents found four-fifths (81%) of those surveyed blame social media for making their children more vulnerable to mental health problems.
The Children’s Society is calling on Government to take action to improve children’s happiness across the nation with a legal entitlement for children to be able to access mental health and wellbeing support in schools and FE colleges across England and Wales.
“All children deserve a happy childhood and we must never accept that it is somehow inevitable that so many children in Britain should live in distress,” added Reed.
“As a first step all children should be able to access mental health and wellbeing support in school.
“Children must be heard and helped.”