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Teen 246Insights into teen health and well-being

In July 2016, the Department of Education published a report on teen health and well-being with survey results from 30,000 Year 10 (14 year old) pupils and parents comparing two cohorts - one from 2005 and one from 2014.

It is clear that the year 10 students who were interviewed in 2014 had markedly different attitudes and behaviours than those spoken to in 2005. How have things changed in those nine years?

First the 'good' news:

  • Young people in 2014 are significantly more ‘serious’ than their predecessors.
  • They were more likely to believe in the importance of hard work - equating hard work with success.
  • They were more positive about school.
  • Less likely to play truant (13% in 2014 vs 23% in 2005).
  • More likely to have aspirations to study A Levels (65% vs 59%) and apply to university (71% vs 60%).
  • Less likely to be excluded both temporarily (4% vs 8%) and permanently (0.4% vs 0.8%)
  • Less likely to be kept from school by parents (other than illness) (16% vs 23%)
  • Markedly less likely to engage in a raft of risky behaviours including smoking, using cannabis, shoplifting, graffiti and vandalism.
  • Depression and anxiety in boys fell (15% vs 17%).
  • Instances of bullying fell (36% vs 41%).

However, less positively, there was a social gradient for the majority of these measures, with young people from disadvantaged families faring less well than those from more privileged families, suggesting that efforts to address these inequalities are still required.

Another negative is that there was an increase in psychological distress amongst girls (37% vs 34%). Young people in single parent and step families and those with a long-standing illness or disability that affects their school work also tended to fare less well.

Interestingly, young people from relatively advantaged backgrounds were actually slightly more likely to exhibit psychological distress than those from less advantaged families. In particular, high parental education correlated with a higher incidence of psychological distress. There is a danger in assuming that a given young person will be ‘fine’ just because they come from a more advantaged or well-educated family – mental health issues can affect people from all backgrounds.

Young people in 2014 also had a lower ‘locus of control’ (the extent to which they believe they can control events affecting them). The lower locus of control might seem understandable bearing in mind the challenging economic environment in which they have been growing up.

As you might expect, the media in general focused on the increase in psychological distress of teenage girls rather than the positives with headlines such as 'More than third of teenage girls in England suffer depression and anxiety'

In media articles, the increase in psychological distress for girls was put down to the challenges of 21st century life such as pressure to achieve at school, body image worries, early sexualisation, social media exposure - living life in open, perfectionism, less community. parents working longer hours, etc.

To see how a church can help, see my earlier blog on 'Resources for youth mental health'.

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Geoff Knott, 04/10/2016

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