Nearly a quarter of 14-year-old girls in the United Kingdom have self-harmed, with many facing overwhelming pressures over how they should look, their sexuality and how they behave, according to a new report by The Children’s Society.
It found that 22% of 14-year-old girls had self-harmed in the course of a year, compared with 9% of boys.
However, boys and girls who were attracted to teenagers of the same gender or both genders were much more likely to harm themselves, the survey found, with almost half – 46% – reporting that they had done so in the past year.
Children from low-income households were also found to have a higher than average risk of self-harming, the report said.
The figures, based on data from 11,000 children collected in the Millennium Cohort Survey for 2015, are included in the charity’s annual Good Childhood Report 2018, which looks at the state of children’s well-being in the UK.
The Good Childhood Report uses findings from an annual survey by the Children’s Society of 10- to 17-year-olds and their parents from 2,000 socio-economically representative households in England, Scotland and Wales.
The researchers found that 14-year-old girls were also unhappier with their lives and more likely to have depression than their male peers.
And another study published last November showed that emergency room visits for non-fatal, self-inflicted injuries surged in recent years among US girls and young women, especially those between the ages of 10 and 14.
Girls in particular are affected by a barrage of comments about their appearance and sexuality at school, the Children’s Society report found.
“I felt like self-harming was what I wanted to do and had to do as there was nothing else I could do. I think there is help for young people but not the right kind of help,” one young person told the charity.
“Feeling not pretty enough or good enough as other girls did contribute towards my self-harming, however, I don’t feel just being a girl is the reason as I think boys feel the same way too.”
Another was quoted as saying: “Girls feel pressured by boys that they should look a particular way and that leads girls into depression or low self-esteem.”
Children’s Society Chief Executive Matthew Reed told Britain’s Press Association news agency that the government should do more to help vulnerable young people and their families.
This should include offering more mental health and well-being support through schools, and encouraging schools to use data gathered from children themselves to support them, particularly those identified as most vulnerable.
“It is deeply worrying that so many children are unhappy to the extent that they are self-harming,” Reed said. “Worries about how they look are a big issue, especially for girls, but this report shows other factors such as how they feel about their sexuality and gender stereotypes may be linked to their unhappiness.”
Notably, children’s happiness has fallen back to the levels seen 20 years ago, the report said, having risen steadily in the 15 years from 1995 to 2010.
The charity’s research also suggests that both boys and girls are harmed by gender stereotypes.
Those whose friendship groups emphasized stereotypes such as that boys should be “tough” and girls should have “nice clothes” were least happy with life.
Family relationships make the biggest difference to children’s well-being overall, researchers found. While fewer arguments and feeling close with parents are particularly important for girls, friends are more important for boys than for girls.