One million children in the UK are unhappy with their lives during lockdown, research by a charity suggests.
Nearly one in five (18%) youngsters aged between 10 and 17 say they are dissatisfied with their lives overall, according to the Children’s Society.
The figure – which is the equivalent of around 1.1 million young people across the UK – is higher than at any point over the past five years when it ranged from 10% to 13%.
The Covid-19 crisis is likely to have contributed to the surge, the charity said.
The poll of 2,002 young people and their parents between April and June also found that around half of parents expected coronavirus to harm their children’s happiness over the coming year.
Asked about the impact of coronavirus, nearly half (46%) of parents reported that their child was unhappier with the amount of choice they have in their lives due to the pandemic.
The crisis also appears to have had an impact on youngsters’ relationships.
Children said the main aspect of Covid-19 they struggled to cope with was being unable to see friends (37%) and family (30%).
Schools and colleges across England closed their doors to the majority of pupils in March, which means some will have been out of the classroom for nearly six months when they return in September.
One 15-year-old boy told the charity: “It’s quite scary because you can die from it. I’m scared that the school has closed down. I’m worried about my exams next year. I need my exams to get a job.”
A higher proportion of young people in poverty said they were “very worried” about coronavirus than those not in poverty (23% compared with 15%).
The Children’s Society has called for better financial support for low-income families – such as increases in child benefit – and said the Department for Education should conduct a review of schooling to ensure pupils’ wellbeing becomes a permanent priority underpinning all aspects of school life.
Chief executive Mark Russell said: “Children’s lives have been turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis and these worrying findings suggest it has already harmed the happiness and wellbeing of many young people.
“They have been left unable to attend school or see friends and relatives, while at the same time being trapped at home with parents and siblings who may have their own worries and anxieties about the situation.”
He added: “Even before the pandemic, children’s happiness with life was at its lowest for a decade and we know there is a link between low wellbeing and mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
“Urgent action is needed now as we recover from coronavirus to reset how we support children’s wellbeing and prevent this crisis harming a whole generation of young people.”
The charity is also calling for a national measurement of children’s wellbeing and more investment in open-access community mental health services where youngsters can get support.
Shadow minister for young people Cat Smith said: “The Government must address the growing mental health crisis faced by so many young people during Covid-19. This new report reveals the extent that parents anticipate long-term negative impacts on their children’s happiness.
“Whilst the Government’s focus on jobs and upskilling young people is welcome, this cannot come at the expense of vital mental health and wellbeing services.”
A Government spokesman said: “It’s natural that children and young people may feel anxious as they adapt to life during a pandemic. School or college can be a safe haven for many, which is why schools and colleges remained open to the most vulnerable pupils.
“It’s encouraging that many children say they have coped with the impact of coronavirus, but nothing can replace the benefits of being in the classroom for children’s education and wellbeing.
“That’s why, ahead of the full return in September, we have prioritised mental health and wellbeing in our guidance for schools, invested over £9 million in mental health charities to reach those most in need, and published new expert resources to help teachers reassure and support their pupils.”