The decline in children's happiness with their friends

The 2020 Good Childhood Report from The Children's Society shows that children's happiness continues to fall. 

The Children's Society has produced The Good Childhood Report every year since 2013. The report uses a range of data sources, including Understanding Society, to measure the happiness and wellbeing of children aged 10-15 in the UK. For several years The Good Childhood Report has found that children's happiness with life as a whole has been declining - this year the report shows another drop in average happiness scores. The proportion of children unhappy with their life overall rose from 3.8% in 2009-10 to 5.9% in 2017-18. 

The Understanding Society youth survey is used in this report to explore how happy children are with different aspects of their life, including their friends, school and home life. This year the report found that: 

  • Children's happiness with their family has remained constant. The proportion of children unhappy with their family was lowest of all the areas measured. Just 2% of children report being unhappy with their family. 
  • Children continue to be concerned about their appearance, with the happiness scores for how they look being signifcanlty lower in 2017-18 compared to 2009-10. In 2017-18 13.9% of children reported being unhappy with their appearance. Girls tend to be more concerned about their appearance than boys, but the gender gap has narrowed in recent years suggesting that boys are becoming more concerned about how they look.  
  • Happiness with school life and school work have dropped since the survey began. The proportion of children unhappy with their school is higher in 2017-18 (11.1% compared to 8.9% in 2009-10), but happiness with schoolwork has remained broadly the same. Girls tend to be more unhappy with schoolwork that boys. 

The Children's Society found that happiness with friends had dropped again, continuing a trend that has been seen in every Good Childhood Report. While the proportion of children reporting being unhappy with their friends has increased over time, so too has the proportion of children scoring in the middle of the scale (i.e. those who are neither happy nor unhappy with their friends). This suggests that the decrease in the mean is not solely driven by children who are unhappy, but also by those who are ambivalent with their friendships. 

Proportion of children who are unhappy and neither happy nor unhappy with friends, 2009-10 to 2017-18

To understand why children are struggling with their friendships The Children's Society asked children about their experiences:

"We asked young people to tell us in their own words why they thought a peer might score themselves as a 4 out of 10 when answering the question about happiness with friends. The comments we received emphasised the impact of ‘falling out with friends’, with arguments/ fights being given as key reasons why someone may rate their friendships as a four. Children also identified the toxic nature of these relationships, and a fear of being left out. Fake friends and lack of trust in others were also features that children reported as possible causes of unhappiness with friends."

You can read The Good Childhood Report here.