What makes children happy?

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I read with interest yesterday an article on the updated findings of a landmark report published three years ago by the Children’s Society – ‘A Good Childhood’ which I blogged on some months back – here.  The previous study warned that young people’s lives are being blighted by Britain’s selfish society.  However, the updated findings say that ‘half a million children in Britain are unhappy at any moment’.  Following interviews with 30,000 under-16s it claims those who have deeply negative feelings about their lives are at higher risk of bullying, depression and eating disorders.  At first glance it makes for depressing reading and is another stark reminder that we still have unacceptable levels of child poverty in this country are more than unacceptable.  But, I then realised that the study was not talking about children on the poverty line but children in general across the board!

As I read on what actually concerned, and frankly annoyed, me about the report was the findings that;

‘Children who worry that they do not have the right clothes to “fit in” with classmates are three times as likely to be unhappy with the way they look, with the problem affecting girls more than boys.’ And ‘Those who received less pocket money than their peers reported lower levels of well-being, but so did those who were given a lot more cash, suggesting that children want to be similar to their friends more than they want to be rich.’

I’m sorry but since when did we not balk at the idea that our responsibility for making our children ‘happy’ lies with providing them with the right ‘clothes’ and enough pocket money?   Is it just me or is something amiss here?   Should it not be more cause for alarm that the emphasis and importance placed on image, labels and material things in general is completely out of control and endemic?  Instead of being encouraged to revise our children’s opinions we’re being pressured to adhere to their demands and (in my opinion) helping to compound the problem.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand the mortification of not having a ‘puff-ball’ skirt, ‘Wallabies’ or a ‘United Colors of Benetton’ sweatshirt at school because we were a single-parent family who lived on a council estate!  However, despite our low income, my mum always dressed us ‘well’ albeit not the latest labels.  My mum, instead encouraged us to be individual and suggested it was cool to be different – just as well seen as we were the only mixed-race kids in our entire year!  I remember my aunt made us some ‘flares’ just before they heavily came in fashion (I’m talking the second time round in the 90’s – I’m not that old!) and although we were a little nervous at wearing them in the first week, the ‘top girl’ of the school came up to us asked us where we got them from and if our aunt would make her some!  There is a lot you can get away with if you’re confident and this attitude has got me a long way in life ever since.  I just think it’s a much more helpful trait to encourage in your child – confidence, individuality and setting the trend rather than following it.

There is a big difference between not having any shoes at all (real child poverty) and not having the ‘right’ shoes.  And as for pocket money – don’t even get me started. They don’t know they’re born!!


3 thoughts on “What makes children happy?

    Sarah said:
    January 13, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Quite right, the obsession with appearance over substance is very unfortunate. Still, teenagers have always been keen to fit in and not stand out from the crowd so it’s not exactly news.

    Parents have to find a balance between pandering to their children’s whims and hammering at their self-esteem with exhortations to be more independent. Some kids can cope with looking more individual, and thrive on it, others are mortified and sink into uncomfortable shyness.

    Expat Mammy said:
    January 13, 2012 at 11:32 am

    ah wallabies i remember them, I think there is too much interest on looks these days, surely happy children are the ones that spend time with their parents and are loved and supported at home.???? what is the world coming too

    Coaching for success said:
    January 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

    I see part of my job as a Mum to help my child to be happy. That doesn’t mean for me that I will pander to their every whim, because in fact short term happiness will likely lead to long term unhappiness (instant gratification syndrome). It sometimes means making them unhappy in the short term. (see my recent blogpost http://achieveamazingthings.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/the-grass-is-always-greener-or-is-it/) It means encouraging them to have inner strength, and it means teaching them about life. It is true that many children feel happy fitting in, and I am happy with that to an extent, but I like you, also want my children to understand that it is OK and in fact many times empowering to be different.

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