You’d think that being a child or teenager in 2015 would be a wondrous thing. All of the knowledge that you could want is literally at your fingertips, a boom in social media usage means that it is easier to connect, TV channels span from the sublime to the ridiculous and all of the gadgetry that you could possibly desire is only a few clicks away. In spite of all of this accessibility, in spite of social popularity and in spite of a booming teenage culture – a recent study has found that English children are among the most unhappy in the western world. The Good Childhood Report published by The Children’s Society charity, found English children came 30th out of 39 countries in Europe and North America in terms of “subjective wellbeing” – how they rated their own happiness and life satisfaction. More than 5,000 English children were surveyed and the results are hugely revealing: most of the young people evaluated were relatively satisfied and happy with possessions and money; however, they were increasingly anxious about other elements of their lives such as their future and their appearance. In fact, a surprising 13% of 10-13 year olds were anxious about their appearance and (perhaps unsurprisingly) the majority of girls concerned about the way they look was double that of the boys. When asked about their opinions on appearance in the study, a 12 year-old girl stated that “people are judged on looks. Sometimes you feel like you can’t enjoy yourself unless you are pretty.” What does that tell us? Having been bullied as a child, and then as a teenager, I know that young people hinge a large amount of their self-worth on their appearance – if you are not seen as attractive by your peers, then you are seen as worthless and in my book, that is not okay.
The digital revolution over the past decade seems to be more of a hindrance than a help where self-esteem for young people is concerned. There is such high demand to have Instagram-worthy selfies, the envy-inducing wardrobe, the most relatable blog – hell, even selecting the wrong filter for your ‘morning coffee’ shot can cause a mass exodus of followers. The world we live in is so accessible, it is so immediate that if you and your eyebrows aren’t “on fleek” then you run the risk of being sidelined for someone who is more, who has more, and who does more. Given that the world is populated with ruthless social Kings and Queens such as the Kardashians, there is ever increasing pressure on young men and women to compete to be attractive, fashionable, sociable and to own their empires. This demand to appear perfect is detrimental to those who are still growing and who are still trying to adapt to the obstacles that life is throwing their way.
Having endured teenage years fraught with low self-esteem, I can safely say that it was not much fun, but I am glad that I am a child of the 90s. I fear that the digital age is becoming far more damaging to young people than we first thought – sure, the ability to connect, to be creative and to exist in an online sphere is advantageous, but social success in this manner hinges on the number of likes, reposts and comments you receive. Young people are constantly seeking out new ways to be successful but sadly, it seems that this online level of success comes only when you are viewed as attractive. When I was 12, I was playing with tents in the garden or baking cakes – it is so saddening to hear that children of this age (and younger) are so overly concerned with their appearance that it is affecting their ability and their ultimate right to lead a happy life. It begs the question: why hasn’t something been done sooner to ease the blow of society’s aesthetic demands on young people?