Every year for the last ten years, the Children’s Society has asked 60,000 children how they think their lives are going. The result is the Good Childhood Report, and while it makes for a fascinating read, the findings are worrying.
This year’s report (produced in partnership with the University of York) has found that there’s a growing gap in happiness between girls and boys. In fact, the number of girls who are currently ‘unhappy with their lives as a whole’ has risen to 14%, an increase of 3% in just five years, while boys’ level of happiness has remained unchanged.
Digging deeper into the report, we can see that 700,000 girls are currently unhappy with their appearance, which of course could lead to low self esteem, mental health problems and other serious implications for their wider wellbeing.
Most worrying of all, however, is that another piece of research (recently conducted by Pacey – the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years) has found that children as young as three are showing signs of being unhappy with their bodies. At this age, surely children should be enjoying their early education and learning how to share equipment such as sandpits and dens (the likes of which are available from suppliers like this one), rather than criticising their appearances or worrying that they’re ‘too fat’?
The studies show that serious action needs to be taken to help children – girls in particular – to ensure they have a much healthier and happier relationship with their bodies, as well as improving their ‘overall’ levels of happiness if they’re to avoid mental health related problems throughout their lifetimes. So what can schools do to make girls happier?
Perhaps the most impactful change would be to make mental health a part of the school curriculum
While schools currently teach a curriculum that puts emphasis on wellbeing by framing it within PSHE lessons (personal, social, health and economic education), teaching about mental health as a subject in its own right isn’t happening. In fact, the Labour Party recently revealed that of the £250 million a year originally budgeted for children and young people’s health, there’s been a £77 million underspend this year. However, if this were to change and children were taught about mental health for even an hour a week, awareness of various mental health issues would be raised. Various interventions and coping strategies could be discussed, and the idea of simply talking about mental health would be normalised too.
Secondly, schools need to ensure there’s a committed senior management team in place
A senior management team that’s aware of the statistics in these reports could be an effective way of lowering the growing numbers of unhappy girls. A team that are committed to promoting a culture that values pupils and takes an interest in their personal lives as well as their academic achievements will perhaps help to enable girls to bolster their mental health and happiness, as this paper produced by Public Health England suggests.
Finally, schools need to ensure there are sufficient resources for happiness
A recent report by Place2Be and NAHT reveals that 59% of school-based counsellors are on- site for one day a week or less. So, schools need to work with healthcare professionals to ensure that there are better resources available for girls to access, and that schools are able to carry out interventions for pupils with serious mental health problems. Steps like this would perhaps help to address the findings of the Good Childhood Report.