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A 'heroic' generation: but they still need our support

In April 2021, the Children’s Commissioner asked all children in England to fill out a survey titled The Big Ask’. This survey, the biggest ever of its kind, posed five key questions to children and young people about their lives, worries and futures.  

Over half a million children aged four to 17 were asked how the past year had affected them, what they want moving forwards and what they feel needs to change. The responses were insightful, wide-ranging and enlightening. 

They were fairly united in their responses across all identity groups, age groups and locations. Despite the sacrifices they made during the pandemic, such as school closures and missing out on time with friends, the majority of children said they are happy. They want to lead fulfilling lives, look after their families and improve their communities. They also care about having a more equal and environmentally-minded future. 

As the Children’s Commissioner, Rachel de Souza, said, “this is not a ‘snowflake’ generation. Rather, it is a heroic generation.”

What were the key findings?

The report revealed several main areas of concern for the nation’s children and young people. They had opinions on family, community, mental and physical health, school, work and the care system for children. 

Family 

94% of children said they were happy with their family life. Although still relatively high, these statistics were lower for children in care (89%) and for young carers (87%). 

The importance of a positive family life was very clear: children who were unhappy at home were nine times more likely to be unhappy in other areas of their lives.

They also said that they wanted more family hubs – where families could get support from multiple fronts – and for more money to be put towards helping families. 

Community 

Children value community; they want to be involved in youth groups and activities. 

19% of children said that they were unhappy with their access to activities in their area. The lack of services available was the second-biggest contributing factor to their unhappiness. 

Children were not particularly concerned about the safety of their communities; 96% said they were happy with their level of personal safety. 

95% of children said that they felt happy with their experiences online, significantly more than were happy with outdoor or in-person activities local to them. 

School and Work 

 84% said that they were happy with life in school or college. 

They recognised the importance of education. This was particularly noticeable among two demographics. 57% of children from the most deprived areas and 60% of children from ethinic minority backgrounds said that education was very important for their futures. 

69% cited getting a good job as their future priority. However, they also expressed anxiety over their future careers. 37% said that their job prospects were their biggest worry for the future – second only to concerns around the environment.

Children also wanted more career advice in school as well as more opportunities for apprenticeships. 

Mental and physical health

Good mental health was a core future aspiration for 52% of children. 20% of children cited their mental health as a cause for concern. 

For children in care, mental health was likely to be worse; children supported by social care were 90% more likely to be unhappy in other areas of their lives. This was similar for young carers, around a quarter of whom said that they were unhappy with their mental health. 

Children were also very aware of the link between mental and physical health. Those unhappy with their mental health were seven times more likely to also be unhappy with their physical health. 

They also said that they wanted better mental health support in schools, online and for vulnerable children in care. 

All children surveyed wanted more money to be given to children’s homes.

They mentioned that social media could often prove negative for their mental health, but overall valued their online activities. 

A better world

Children were concerned about the future of the environment. 39% cited this as their biggest worry. Children from more affluent backgrounds were more likely to cite this as a concern, at 45%, compared to 34% of children from the most deprived backgrounds.

The report also showed that children are concerned about equality, with 20% citing it as their top priority. There was a significant overlap between children who mentioned these two concerns. Children who cited the environment as a priority were twice as likely to also cite social fairness, and vice versa. 

 

What next? 

This generation has shown itself to be tough, perceptive and caring, not just within their own demographic but across all social groups. 

They’ve highlighted the importance of connection, both online and in-person, and asked for this to be better facilitated. They’re a confident generation online – 95% felt positive about their online experiences – but they’re aware of the importance of a good balance with life offline too. They care about their digital wellbeing, and the potential impact of social media on their mental health. 

When it comes to this generation’s digital future, there is plenty to feel positive about – but there is plenty that parents and teachers can do to help make that future a reality. 

Further resources available 

Parent Zone believes the best way to support children is to equip parents and schools with the tools they need to support this generation of young people. Here are just a couple of resources – and for more advice and support, visit our support resources page.  

Ollee is a virtual friend, developed and funded by the BBC Children in Need’s A Million and Me. It is designed to help 8-to-11 year-olds understand their emotions and talk about difficult topics with their families. 

Be Internet Legends is our fantastic programme for teachers and parents to help children become safer, more confident explorers of the online world, which we run in partnership with Google. All teaching resources and parent activities are free to download and give a comprehensive introduction to online safety for 7 to 11-year-olds.