It’s official: children know chips and chocolate are bad for them, think staying safe is more important than anything else, and prefer playing computer games to watching TV.
These are just some of the many findings to emerge from the first national children’s rights “conference” for under-12s which, taken together, paint a picture of the world through the eyes of children and young people.
The all-day event, arranged by children’s rights director for England Roger Morgan, was held at Legoland earlier this year and attended by more than 500 randomly selected children from across the country.
Every child was asked to fill in a postcard about each of the five outcomes that underpin the Every Child Matters agenda: being healthy; staying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and economic well-being.
They were also asked to add anything else they thought was important to children’s and young people’s lives.
With stories of missing children regularly making the headlines, and the most recent Home Office statistics showing that, over the course of a year, more than a third of 10- to 15-year-olds personally experience at least one crime, perhaps it is unsurprising that children ranked “staying safe” as the most important of the five Every Child Matters outcomes.
Top of the children’s list of the biggest dangers people their age face is “strangers”, cited by one in six of the 380 children who answered this question. The knock-on effect of this is that staying with an adult, a family member or someone else known to them, all feature in the list of ways children and young people thought they could help themselves to stay safe.
The fact that drinking alcohol, taking drugs and smoking were all cited by children as dangerous is probably due to the ease with which children can now get drink, drugs and cigarettes, and the constant repetition of the message at school and at home about the associated health risks of all three.
Sadly, knives, guns and other weapons are also seen by children and young people as a major threat to their safety in today’s society. This is hardly surprising in light of the provision, in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill published this summer, that gives schools the power to search pupils for weapons.
What do children see as dangerous?
(The percentage of the 380 children who responded to this question who gave each answer.)
Being healthy, enjoying life and learning:
According to the 450 children who answered the question about being healthy, children most like running, swimming and playing football.
However, all sports fared less favourably once the question was broadened out to encompass the full range of other leisure activities children enjoy – with playing computer games taking poll position.
The children had no problem identifying exactly what they should and shouldn’t be eating, with chips, sweets and chocolate being clearly identified as the three unhealthiest things they ate, and fruit, salad and vegetables as the three healthiest.
What do children like doing in their spare time?
(The percentage of the 421 children who responded to this question who gave each answer.)
What are the unhealthiest things children eat?
(The percentage of the 450 children who responded to this question who gave each answer.)
Having enough money:
In contrast to the common perception of young people today as materialistic and brand-obsessed, “having enough money” was not deemed as important to children as the other four Every Child Matters outcomes.
The average weekly amount of pocket money children received ranged from £2.89 for five-year-olds to £4.43 for 12-year-olds, with many linking the amount they received to their behaviour over the previous seven days.
Despite identifying sweets and chocolate as two of the unhealthiest things they eat, almost half of the 418 children who answered the question about pocket money admitted to spending it on sweets anyway.
Children appear to become more interested in saving up for bigger things as they grow older, with 11% of 11-year-olds and 17% of 12-year-olds saving at least some of their weekly allowance rather than spending it all immediately.
What do children spend their money on?
(The percentage of the 418 children who responded to this question who gave each answer.)
What else matters?
The prime minister will undoubtedly be delighted to know that “respect” was suggested by just over one in 20 children as an issue of importance that ought to be added to the list of key outcomes for children and young people.
But it was “family” – suggested by almost a quarter of the 505 children who answered this question – that topped the list of other things children cared about, followed by “friends”, “having enough food and drink”, “fun”, “love” and “being happy”.
Children’s rights director Roger Morgan stressed the importance of those who work with children and young people taking these additional outcomes on board.
“This is a very important list indeed,” Morgan said. “It is what hundreds of younger children say are the most important things to them, on top of what the government thinks. “Adults working with children, who these days use the government’s list a lot in thinking about what they are doing and what they should be doing, should now use this ‘children’s own’ list too.”
What else is particularly important to children?
(The percentage of the 505 children who responded to this question who gave each answer.)