Charting the changing needs of children

By Des Mannion

| 16 November 2016

For every generation of children, growing up is always difficult. Some of the challenges like bullying in the schoolyard or problems at home haven't changed over the years, while new issues have emerged with the growth of the online world.

October marked the 30th anniversary of Dame Esther Rantzen setting up Childline. On its very first evening, 50,000 children and young people picked up the phone and got in touch.

Back in 1986, children would call our counsellors from a red telephone box on a street corner. Now, 70 per cent of contacts from children are made online.

The issues young people are contacting Childline counsellors about have also evolved.

From 1986 until the mid 1990s, sexual abuse and physical abuse were the concerns that children talked about the most. From the 1990s until the mid 2000s bullying was the main concern.

Since then, the top issues every year have been concerns relating to mental health - particularly on the subjects of depression, unhappiness and low self-esteem.

Whether that's concerns about their body image or the pressure to achieve top marks in their latest exams, children are increasingly contacting the helpline for advice and support from someone when they need them the most.

More recently, the number of contacts about anxiety have also rocketed, rising from 8,600 to 11,700 in the last year alone, as children and young people worry not only about aspects in their own lives but also things they can't control in the wider world.

In some respects this is welcome as it shows how young people are more willing to come forward to open up about how they are feeling, but it is also worrying to see how much they are suffering.

It's difficult to draw firm conclusions about the causes of the unhappiness many children are clearly feeling, but by studying these emerging problems we can take a wider look at the issues affecting children in society and develop ways to challenge them.

What can be concluded is that each generation of children faces its own set of challenges and that many continue to need the support of Childline and others to help them as they grow up.

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