Listen to what the kids say they need for happiness and health
Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2007
In comparison to the attention the early years of childhood and adolescence receive, the middle years of childhood have often been neglected. But thanks to a new survey of 1,300 nine- to 12-year-olds by University of British Columbia educational psychologist Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, middle childhood is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
The survey, conducted for the United Way of the Lower Mainland, found that as kids progress from Grade 4 to Grade 7, they become increasingly isolated and less optimistic about life. Boys suffer more than girls.
Fortunately, though, by pinpointing the factors that help kids to become well-adjusted, the survey can help parents and educators to provide children in their middle years with what they need.
The survey found that parents have less contact with their children as they age, which isn’t surprising since children become more independent during middle childhood. However, the survey also discovered that as parent connectedness decreased, so too did children’s social and emotional health.
Similarly, children felt less connected to other adults in their communities and to their peers as they aged. And with this increasing disconnectedness, the survey observed a decrease in children’s happiness and in their self-ratings of social responsibility — of their success in internalizing societal norms.
Further, children’s satisfaction with their body image decreased as they aged, with more girls internalizing a negative image — though more boys are teased about their appearances.
While older kids are more likely to believe they will graduate from high school, girls’ grades dropped slightly, and boys’ grades declined substantially, with 39 per cent of Grade 4 boys claiming they always got good grades compared with just 23 per cent of Grade 7 boys.
Children who spent significant amounts of their free time online or watching television also reported less self-confidence, happiness, optimism and empathy than those who spent more time with adults or peers.
It’s not entirely clear from the survey if a lack of connectedness causes emotional difficulties, or if emotional maladjustment makes children less likely to associate with their parents and peers. But either way, connectedness appears to be a positive factor in children’s lives, and what’s more, it seems to be just what kids desire.
For example, only 8.5 per cent of kids said they wished to spend more time on their computers, and no children reported wanting to watch more television. In contrast, nearly half wanted to engage in more physical activities, while a significant number desired spending more time with friends or participating in music or drama.
The kids who responded to the survey have provided a blueprint for a plan to ensure that they become happy, healthy adolescents and adults. But several factors stand in the way: Parents were also surveyed, and noted the existence of several barriers — particularly transportation, time and cost — to providing children with what they need.