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Growing up in Ireland: The recession made kids more badly-behaved

A new study assesses how children feel about living in Ireland.

Image: Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

EXPERIENCES OF CHILDHOOD vary markedly depending on social class, gender and school environments, according to a new report published today.

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) survey looks at the wellbeing of children aged nine and 13 – assessing how they feel about their own physical appearance, mental health, academic work and popularity.

The findings are based on research from the ‘Growing Up in Ireland’ longitudinal study, which tracks the progress of nearly 20,000 children as they grow up in a changing Ireland.

Here’s a breakdown of the main findings:

School

  • A third of nine-year-olds in Irish schools are taught in multi-grade settings (with more than one year group in the same class).
  • Girls are somewhat more confident learners than boys.
  • Children from immigrant families are more critical about their academic abilities than children from Irish families.
  • Among children in smaller schools, self-image is less positive in all areas apart from anxiety.
  • Students who have negative relationships with teachers have a less positive image of themselves.
  • Children, especially girls, feel less able to cope with academic work during the transition to secondary school.

Behaviour

  • Young people whose families have been significantly affected by the recession were more poorly behaved at 13 than at nine.
  • Girls are more positive about their behaviour than boys.
  • Middle-class children see themselves as better behaved than children from working-class or non-employed households do.

Anxiety, body image

  • Children with Irish-born parents feel more positively about their appearance.
  • Students who had less difficulties transitioning into secondary school reported having a more positive body image.
  • Girls have higher anxiety levels than boys.
  • Young people with negative attitudes to maths at the age of nine were more anxious at 13.

Happiness, popularity

  • Working-class children and children of immigrant parents are less happy than their peers.
  • Children from immigrant families see themselves as less popular than children from Irish families do.
  • Young people feel more popular at 13 than they had at nine.
  • Children with learning difficulties are more unhappy and see themselves as more unpopular than their peers do.

Sarah Fitzpatrick, deputy CEO of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, which commissioned the study, said the picture it paints “takes us beyond academic achievement to a more profound understanding of the role of education and the responsibilities of teachers in nurturing children’s wellbeing.”

The author of the study, Emer Smyth, said its findings show that the children’s relationships with teachers play “an important protective role in [their] well-being within primary school and over the transition to second-level education.”

Read: How much do you value the people who take care of your children? 

Watch: Temple Street dads on their love for their kids

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About the author:

Catherine Healy

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