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Are Our Children Happy?

20 oktober 2016

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of taking an assembly with our Year 8 students.  They often lead assemblies themselves, but on that day, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to choose a topic to present to them and for us to think about at the start of the day.

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Assemblies can often be used to deliver ‘messages of hope’ and to encourage reflection on the wider issues that affect and impact upon our students’ lives.

Tuesday was no exception.  I know that pupils in Years 7, 8 and 9 have been studying wellbeing in their PSHE lessons during this term as part of a strategy to develop their resilience to modern day pressures and to try to improve their personal levels of wellbeing.  So happiness was the theme of the assembly and specifically levels of happiness amongst children.  Where are the world’s happiest children?  The question is more difficult than you might think. Is it a matter of possessions, wealth, safety or family?  Are children in developing nations as happy, or possibly even happier, than those in industrialised nations?

Firstly, we just reflected upon the ‘things’ that make us happy.  We shared these with each other and Helene’s group suggested how variances might occur because of social and economic differences between countries. Looking at research published last year, we explored levels of happiness amongst children across the world.  There were some interesting conclusions – some of which you might find quite surprising.

Most of the children in the 15 countries studied rated their satisfaction with life as a whole positively.  This in itself is encouraging.  However, there was variance and the percentage of children with very high well-being varied from around 78% in Turkey and 77% in Romania and Columbia to around 40% in South Korea.  Children in European countries tend to report higher levels of satisfaction with their friendships, while children in African countries are happier with their school lives.  Children’s well-being also decreases between the ages of 10 and 12 in many European countries and in South Korea. We were curious about why this might be.

This brings us back to the question students were asked to think about at the start of the assembly.   What makes a person happy? Owning an iPhone and a laptop? Hanging out with friends? Playing sport? Or going shopping?

According to research, parents may well be getting the answer wrong. Their children are getting caught in a cycle of consumerism that replaces family life with gadgets and designer clothes – and perhaps it’s making them miserable. But why might this be happening?  One suggestion is that parents often work long hours, and try to make up for their absences by buying expensive toys or branded clothes. Ironically, their children don’t really value these. The younger generation believe happiness is about friends, family and lots of stimulating things to do – not material possessions.  

We are part of a very special community at BISS, but we know that our students feel the pressures of expectations surrounding their performance, both academically, as well as perhaps in a sporting or musical context.   We also know that friends may leave suddenly and that our parents often travel for business and work long hours that reduce family time together.

As I mentioned at the start of this blog, assemblies are an opportunity to offer messages of hope, and we ended the assembly with some simple activities that we might all follow to help improve our own levels of happiness and in turn, well-being.  For children (and also some of us parents), we might reduce screen time on gadgets and sleep instead!  The blue light emitted by electronics suppresses the production of melatonin, a chemical that makes us feel sleepy when it is released into the bloodstream.  Children that have had a good night of sleep are much less grumpy!

All of us should try to sit down and eat together as a family.  Why?  This helps to provide our children with a sense of security and belonging; in fact research suggests that students perform better in school with this level of security. 

For the children, foster friendships where you can be yourself and are not under peer group pressure to pretend to be anyone different. 

And finally, gratitude – can you think of five things that you are grateful for?

I wish you an enjoyable weekend and look forward to seeing you at school over the next few weeks.

Andrew Lancaster, Head of Secondary