Girls are twice as likely to be unhappy with their mental health than boys, according to a landmark survey which has praised England’s children as being a “survivor generation”.
A fifth of children are unhappy about their mental health, making it their top concern, research by Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza suggested.
More than half a million (557,077) children completed her Big Ask survey over April and May, making it the largest survey of children of its kind.
Thanking the “survivor generation” for participating, Dame Rachel said the findings herald “the start of a new deal for children”.
The survey found that seven in 10 nine to 17-year-olds are happy with their life overall while 57% of children are happy with their mental health.
Girls were almost twice as likely as boys to be unhappy about their mental health (25% versus 13%).
Almost a third (32%) of 16 to 17-year olds were unhappy about their mental health, as were 40% of girls in this age group.
More than half (52%) of respondents said having good mental health in the future is one of their main aspirations – rising to 63% of 16 to 17-year olds.
Four in 10 children said the environment is one of their main priorities and concerns for the future, with the second most common worry being reported was whether they will grow up to benefit from a healthy planet.
Among all groups of children, the top things they said they cared about were their mental and physical health, things to do in their local area, life at school and progress in education.
The report is calling for a comprehensive catch-up package for schools and a faster expansion of mental health support teams so children have access to digital counselling.
It also recommends stronger safeguards for social media platforms and stopping children’s access to online pornography.
Dame Rachel described the children’s responses as a “rich display of honesty, hope and authenticity about what concerns them”.
They also indicate that young people feel “burdened with a sense of inherited problems”.
She said: “This is not a ‘snowflake generation.’ It is a heroic generation. A generation of children who are veterans of a global crisis.
“They have seen how colossally frightening life can be, far too young, and have made a lot of sacrifices.
“But they have endured, and are emerging stronger and prematurely wise. Bruised, yes, and in many cases seriously vulnerable, but, for the most part, happy, optimistic and determined.
“They are a survivor generation – a sleeves‑up, pragmatic generation, with civic‑minded aspirations.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “I’m encouraged to see most children and young people are happy, resilient and ambitious, but there are concerns too and we must address them.
“We know that the pandemic hit young people hard, which is why we have launched a tutoring revolution to make sure they catch up and bolstered mental health support in schools. As we drive to level up opportunities across the country, we will continue prioritising young people’s wellbeing alongside academic success.
“This survey shows the variety of concerns young people have – and the Government has taken action to address them. From an Online Safety Bill to committing to Net Zero and hosting COP26 later this year, we are taking the necessary steps to keep our young people safe while making sure we protect the world for generations to come.”