UK children lead least satisfied lives in Europe due to ‘fear of failure’, survey suggests

Richard Crellin, the charity’s policy manager, added: “As a society, we put significant amounts of pressure on our children to succeed, especially at school, and this has consequences for well-being. Good exam results are seen as the key to future success and often prosperity, so children feel incredibly anxious about what will happen if they don’t do well.

“Our previous research has found this fear of failure is much worse amongst children living in poverty. For them, the stakes are even higher and they may feel that failure could irrevocably damage their future prospects.

“It is therefore vital that we rethink what it means to fail and to succeed. An educational culture which tells children they only have ‘one shot’ at success in school places unnecessary pressure on young people. Learning should be a lifelong endeavour and not something that feeds fear and distress.”

The Children’s Society also noted the UK had the largest increase in relative child poverty between 2015-18, about four percentage points, whereas on average child poverty fell by about two percentage points across the 24 countries.

The findings “raise questions about whether increasing levels of child poverty in the UK may be having a detrimental effect on children’s subjective well-being”, the charity said.

Wellbeing scores were calculated using four measures – life satisfaction, happiness, sadness and sense of purpose.

The study found a marked difference between girls and boys, with almost a quarter (23 per cent) of girls but only 14 per cent of boys with low scores in at least three measures.

Separate UK research analysed by the charity shows a continuing decline in 10-to-15-year olds’ overall happiness.

Between 2009 and 2017, the number of UK children in this age group who were unhappy with their friends rose from an estimated 86,000 (1.9 per cent) to around 155,0005 (3.5 per cent)

The Understanding Society study showed that, among 10-to-15-year olds, boys are consistently happier with their appearance than girls, while girls are happier with their schoolwork.

Since 2009, when the survey started, boys’ and girls’ average happiness scores for life as a whole, friends and school have dropped.

The proportion of boys unhappy with school has risen, as has the proportion of girls unhappy with their friends.

The Children’s Society said the coronavirus pandemic may have further affected children’s happiness in these areas.

It warned that any response must distinguish between fluctuations in wellbeing that are related to Covid-19 and more longer-term trends.

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