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

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  • 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 today reveals children, parents and grandparents fear childhoods are getting worse.

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.

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.

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.

With the UK’s most vulnerable youngsters hit hardest by the growing childhood crisis, 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 saidWhat 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.”

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