They felt worse than children in Algeria, Ethiopia and Romania – according to the Good Childhood Report 2015 – a research project carried out on 53,000 children by the Children’s Society and the University of York, .
Only children in Germany, Estonia andSouth Korea are more unhappy.
The results are attributed to bullying and peer pressure to look good.
More than a third of English pupils said they had been physically bullied in the previous month and more than half said they had experienced low-level bullying by being excluded from activities by other children or being taunted or belittled.
English children were also particularly dissatisfied with their appearance with girls twice as unhappy as boys about how they looked. Only South Korea came below England in how girls felt happy about their bodies and appearance compared with the rest of the world (in this case 15 countries but not including America, Russia or Japan). Girls in Columbia were happiest with their bodies.
Social media was felt to be exacerbating the problems as teenagers compare themselves with perfect images they see online.
I think Facebook and similar social networking sites, the success of reality TV shows where talentless but good-looking people get rich, the rise of selfies and the increase in narcissistic behaviour all plays its part.
You can probably add the ease of access to pornography with boys having unrealistic expectations of girls, sexting and the over-sexualisation of young girls into the mix too.
The Children’s Society produced a report in 2013 on how miserable older teenagers were so this is nothing new, just a younger age group.
Bullying and poor body image are known to contribute to poor mental health among young people and the director of the charity Young Minds thought the results showed that adults in Britain were neglecting their children. “We just cannot ignore that in Britain so many children are suffering. These findings must not be dismissed as simply an inevitable part of growing up. Children in England are worryingly falling a long way behind in their level of happiness in comparison to other countries and action must be taken to address this”
Maybe some parents do neglect their children but there is also plenty of evidence of indulgent adults “over parenting” their kids and not helping them prepare for adult life.
In fact the survey showed that English children ranked about half-way in the group of 15 countries when it came to friendships and family relationships.
The Children’s Society want it to become a legal requirement for schools to provide counselling as in Wales and Northern Ireland. They also want schools to do more to tackle bullying and promote exercise.
They said “Schools should be a safe haven, not a battleground. Despite a long period of austerity we are one of the richest nations in the world yet the happiness of our children is at rock bottom. They are unhappy at school and are struggling with their appearance and self-confidence”
Certainly bullying is unacceptable and should be stamped out but when schoolchildren have no respect for their teachers and there are no real punishments available it’s an uphill task. Fortunately there is evidence that bullying may not be a totally negative experience for everybody.
The National Union of Teachers blames the “exam factory culture” which doesn’t help children to thrive and marks some out as failures early on in their education.
The Department for Education said schools should be “happy, safe and supportive places” for children. “Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and all schools must have measures in place to tackle it. That is why we providing more than £7 million to help schools tackle bullying head on”
“We are also promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools. This will ensure children will thrive inside and out of the classroom”
FYI There are over 8 million children in almost 24,500 schools in England. £7 million pounds is peanuts – less than £300 per school! Primary school heads are paid an average of £52,000 a year and secondary heads an average of £73,000 a year but many earn a lot more. £300 wouldn’t pay a teacher or counsellor for a week.