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ONS | Children's views on well-being and what makes a happy life, UK: 2020

Today the ONS published an article giving a voice to children (aged 10 to 15) about what makes for a happy life. The findings are based on focus groups across the UK between September 2019 and February 2020.

The analysis is part of the ongoing work ONS has been conducting over recent years into how children feel about their lives, the contexts in which they live and what matters to them.

The main points of the findings include:

  • Feeling loved and having positive, supportive relationships, particularly with friends and family, including having someone to talk to and rely on were consistently stated as a top priority for children to have a happy life - "[Love means] people who care about you, family and friends, because if you're upset then they'll be there for you".

  • Children described the importance of feeling safe as an essential element of their happiness including: safe places to hang out and meet with friends and a sense of safety at home, in their neighbourhoods, at school and online; however, generally focus group participants felt that their local areas lacked safe places and activities for children - "There needs to be somewhere to relax and be able to unwind".

  • Children said being able to be themselves and express themselves without being judged by others was crucial to their mental health and well-being - "Like some 12-year-olds will be getting judged and that will make them change into someone they don't want to be when they're older".

  • As a place where many children spend a lot of their waking hours, schools were described as having an important impact on children's well-being, particularly in reference to the physical buildings; environment and culture of the school; teachers and other staff; the learning content and curriculum; and opportunities for extra-curricular activities - "They had to rebuild our science labs because they were falling apart very slowly. The chair broke on me and I fell on the floor".

  • Although children and young people may not deal with finances directly, they acknowledged the importance of family finances in meeting basic needs and fostering a sense of social inclusion, while stress around family finances could impact the mental health of everyone in the household; however, money was not equated with happiness - "Finance is really stressful, and it can stress the family out and then that can have an effect on the child".

  • In discussing their future happiness and well-being, the main areas raised included living in a country at peace and where children's needs are considered by those in positions of power; empowering children to express themselves and have a say in decisions that affect their lives; and preservation of the environment and addressing climate change - "They should listen to children because sometimes the children are right".

Commenting on the findings, Eleanor Rees, Head of Social Well-being Analysis Team, Office for National Statistics, said:

"Today's research gives a fascinating insight into the things that children say matter for a happy life, including feeling that their views are being listened to by decision makers.

"The children spoke to us before the pandemic took hold, and many aspects of life they spoke of, from time with friends and family and having enough to eat to what they need to have a happy future, may have been impacted over the past six months. This may give the findings an additional value in understanding how to support children during these times."

Through discussion and elaboration of children's ideas, the following principal themes were identified in relation to what children need for a happy life:

  • positive relationships

  • safe spaces and things to do

  • health and well-being

  • skills and schools

  • basic needs

  • happy future

To read the full report, please visit:

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