What worries Australian children? A survey has asked 20,000 of them.

By Clare Blumer

It is well known that parents spend a lot of time worrying about their children’s future, but do they know their children are worrying too?

ABC’s current affairs program for kids Behind the News has surveyed 20,000 Australian children to find out what makes them happy and sad.

What they’re worried about is surprisingly similar to what adults worry about.

CHART: What worries Australian kids. Image via ABC.



"Just like adults, children have worries and fears, and they also have times when they feel okay and times when they feel happy," says child psychologist Kirrilie Smout.

"If we understand that rather than having this idea that childhood is all ice creams and butterflies then we're in a better place to actually help children cope with the negative experiences and the negative emotions they do have."

Research shows parents underestimate how worried kids are about a number of life issues, Ms Smout says, with the survey finding 43 per cent of the children were worried about their future most or all the time.

"This is partly because children don't show worry in the same way that adults do," she explains. "Children will often bounce around looking happy and engaged in what they're doing but they're not as good at using words to talk about their worries."

Although children are turning to their parents more than anyone else when they need help, nearly one in five kids said they didn't tell anyone when they were feeling worried.

When children are really embarrassed about something, they're least likely to tell anyone, according to developmental psychologist Dr Richard O'Kearney.

"That's one of the things that gets in the way of disclosure - fear of what other people think about me if I tell them of my concerns," he says.

"For other groups of kids it may be that they're not in a context where they think their concerns will be taken seriously. They sort of feel dismissed at home from parents - especially boys who tend to be told to 'man up' and that they're not supposed to worry about things.


"Kids Helpline is a free phone-counselling service for kids. Spokesperson John Dalgleish says "it's not surprising that half of our contacts from children under 18 are about family relationship issues".

"Either they're concerned about their relationship with their parents, they're concerned about their relationship with other family members or they're concerned about their family or the experiences their family are going through."

Two-thirds of kids experience bullying

Two-thirds of children told the survey they had experienced bullying at some stage of their lives - and of those, 39 per cent said it went on for a year or more.

Mr Dalgleish says bullying is a significant issue that more and more children need support with.

"Bullying behaviour in the Australian community is very high," he says."

Online reality is as much a part of [a child's] identity now as face-to-face reality, so bullying can be amplified through the internet. It can have severe impacts on them in terms of self-confidence and self-esteem."

The survey showed more kids aged 8 to 10 said they had been bullied in their lifetime. This is confusing at face value, as it is unlikely that fewer 16-year-olds have experienced bullying in their life than eight-year-olds.


An obvious reason for this could be the increased awareness of the word 'bullying' among children, according to Ms Smout.

"We've worked very hard at trying to reduce bullying and conflict in schools, and part of that has been lots of education about how it's not okay to treat people in cruel and unkind ways," she explains.

"But the unfortunate side effect to this education is that we have many children who are hyper-aware of the word bullying, who are hyper-alert to being treated unkindly and who label bullying inaccurately... Actually what they're experiencing is conflict between peers. Conflict between peers happens routinely, every day, and it's absolutely what we have to help children deal with - but it's not bullying."

The good news is that only a small percentage of children are true worry-warts.

"We often give the impression to children that worry is bad, that anxiety is a disorder, that any level of anxiety is something to panic about," says Ms Smout. "Whereas what we we want to talk with children about is that it's normal to worry, we all worry and some people unfortunately worry more than others."

Teenagers tend to worry more often than younger children, the survey found.

Body image is a concern for both boys and girls, though the survey found girls were more likely to want to change their bodies.

This is not surprising, says Ms Smout, with many other surveys and research showing that adolescent girls are more worried about their bodies.


In the end, boys and girls are just about as happy as each other, with 64 per cent saying they are happy all or most of the time.

While the majority are happy, it begs the question of why a third of Australian kids say that they usually aren't happy.

"Kids are experiencing tough times in our community. That's often not recognised, and the significance of their experience is not acknowledged," Mr Dalgleish says.

"Reassure children that it's okay to seek help, and it's quite normal that if you're under pressure or stress to seek help."

For the inaugural BTN Happiness Survey children voluntarily filled out an online form, often under the supervision of their teachers, and answered questions about their inner life. They were provided with links to information about mental health services on completion.

The survey was carried out as part of the ABC's Mental As initiative.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978.


  • BTN ran its Happiness Survey online, 20,000 kids responded.
  • The sample was self-selecting, and not necessarily a representative cross-section.
  • Responses were tallied for children aged 6 to 16.
  • Location of respondents: NSW 35%, Vic 24%, WA 14%, SA 11%, Qld 8%, Tas 4%, ACT 3%, NT 1%.


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This post originally appeared on ABC News.