Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Five ways to a happy childhood?

This blog is written by Saamah Abdallah, a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Well-being, and is part of the Wikiprogress Series on child well-being. It explains how the Children's Society used nef's Five Ways to Well-being to children in its Good Childhood Report 2013, as well as highlights some of the key findings.

Five years ago, nef launched the Five Ways to Well-being – five easy evidence-based things individuals can build into their daily lives to improve their well-being – as part of the Foresight Review of Mental Capital and Well-being produced by the Government Office for Science. They are Connect, Be Active, Take notice, Keep Learning and Give. The five ways have had a phenomenal success across the globe from Norway to New Zealand, and can be found on billboards in South London, and on the NHS Choices website.

But the Five Ways evidence was mostly based on studies on adults. So, the Children’s Society, who have set the standard for the well-being agenda for children, asked nef to help them explore the relevance of the Five Ways for those under 16. They used a combination of survey data, asking around 1,500 children about their behaviour (to see whether they engage in the five ways) and their well-being, and focus groups, directly asking children to explore how the Five Ways might improve their lives.

Last week, the Children’s Society launched the Good Childhood Report 2013, which presents this data for the first time (take a look at chapter 4). Overall, the evidence showed the Five Ways to Well-being to be important to children – those carrying them out reporting high levels of well-being. In regression analyses, certain activities seemed to be particularly important: noticing one’s surroundings (Take Notice), talking to family members about things that matter (Connect), playing sports (Be Active) and teaching yourself new things (Keep Learning). For example, children who reported noticing and enjoying their surroundings all of the time were on average in the top 25% of well-being scores, whereas those that reported never doing so were on average in the bottom 20%.
As telling as the relationships we found to be strong, are those that weren’t so strong. For example, whilst seeing friends was very important to well-being, chatting to friends on the phone or through social websites, had no effect whatsoever on well-being. Might Facebook’s intention to allow children under 12 to use the website encourage more to carry out this well-being neutral activity? Meanwhile, the evidence on Give was mixed – helping around the house was associated with higher well-being, but volunteering (which few kids did) wasn’t.
In a more detailed report which the Children’s Society and nef will publish later this summer, we will also present findings on the relationship between the Five Ways and socio-economic status. Preliminary evidence suggests that children in the bottom income quartile carry out fewer five ways activities than those in the top income quartile, despite the fact that most of the activities can be free or very cheap (e.g. reading books or playing sports).
The evidence from the focus groups suggested, however, that the biggest barrier to children carrying out Five Ways activities was lack of permission from parents or guardians. The Children’s Society have already highlighted the importance of autonomy and independence for children, and these data show how a society of over-protectiveness may be preventing children from doing things which could improve their well-being, such as seeing their friends, cycling to school, or simply kicking around a football in the park.

This blog first appeared on the nef blog 22 July, 2013.
Click here to view the full Good Childhood Report 2013.

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