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Young people’s wellbeing
Young people’s wellbeing

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1.2 Researching media stories

The apparent decline of young people’s wellbeing can be explained because of growing pressures to perform at school and to get a good job in what is an increasingly competitive job market. In addition to such pressures, the longer term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people will take many years to fully understand. Other accounts speculate about failures on the part of parents. These concerns about parents, even in the media, are not new. For example, more than 15 years ago the journalist Jackie Ashley pondered: ‘Perhaps the move of more women into the labour market in recent decades, with fathers not compensating for the time lost with children, is … a factor’ (Ashley, 2005, p. 24). Another journalist, Madeleine Bunting, has suggested that ‘an increasing minority of parents are unable or unwilling to provide the emotional nurturing which will ensure a resilient child’ (Bunting, 2004, p. 17).

Thus, concerns about the unhealthy young person have become a lightning rod for wider anxieties about key aspects of contemporary life, such as changes in parenting and family life, and an increasingly competitive and stressful society.

Activity 2 Researching media stories of young people's health

Over the next few weeks look out for media stories about young people's wellbeing. Do they reflect the kinds of concerns – about physical health and mental wellbeing – that have been noted here, or do they embody other anxieties? How do the stories account for changes in young people’s experience?


Although you may identify some similarities to the articles quoted in Activity 1, it is likely that new concerns about young people's health will have emerged by the time you read this. Look out for similarities and differences in the responses of media commentators and in the explanations they offer.

Analysing popular images and stories about young people’s health is important, not least because they can have an impact on young people’s behaviour.

For example, findings from the Good Childhood Report (2016) demonstrated that the proportion of girls (aged 10 to 15) that reported they were unhappy with their appearance had risen to 14%. In 2013–14, these findings were on average 11% (Children’s Society, 2016). These findings demonstrate the growing pressure of social media and has suggested that a tough economic climate has created a more ‘serious’ generation of young people. The quotation below from the Children’s Society (2020) highlights the prevalence of mental health disorders in children and young people:

Evidence suggests 1 in 6 young people (aged 5–16 years) have a diagnosable mental disorder. In the last three years, the likelihood of young people having a mental health problem has increased by 50%. Mental problems can interfere with young people's ability to learn, develop and maintain relationships and to deal with the difficulties they face.

(Children’s Society, 2020)

As in the media stories cited in Section 1, this extract reflects overlapping concerns about different kinds of health problems: physical, mental and emotional. There is also a blurring of concern for young people's health and a concern about the impact of their health problems on society in general.

How should we respond to these stories about the state of young people's health? What models of health and wellbeing do they assume, and what are their implications for policy and practice? Is it possible to offer an alternative way of thinking about young people's wellbeing, and what might be the implications of that model for work with young people? These are some of the questions that will be addressed in this course. Rather than offer a descriptive survey of the state of young people's health, or a detailed account of a range of health ‘problems’, the course will continue the critical analysis of current ways of constructing young people's wellbeing, which has been started here, and attempt to provide a critical framework for understanding and responding to young people's health needs.

Key points

  • Recent media coverage has painted a picture of a decline in young people's wellbeing and of increasing concern about their physical and mental health.

  • These images and stories influence young people's own perceptions and behaviour, and at the same time help to shape policy and practice.