A new campaign dubbed Seriously Awkward launched by The Children’s Society has found that more than a third of older teenagers are so anxious and stressed that they have suffered sleepless nights in the last year.
The campaign found that out of the 1,000+ 16 and 17 year olds polled in the UK, one in three 16 and 17 year olds (34 per cent) are frequently feeling anxious and a quarter (25 per cent) often felt sad. Further, a quarter of those surveyed also said that they do not feel optimistic about the future and over two quarters (69 per cent) said they felt judged simply for being a teenager.
The Children’s Society’s new Seriously Awkward campaign highlights the huge challenges that 16 and 17 year olds face. They are more likely to go missing or be a victim of violent crime than any other age group and they are at a high risk of sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
The charity says that despite all this, they are being systematically let down by the law and don’t get the same basic safeguards as younger children.
For instance, while laws exist to protect 16 and 17 year olds against specific incidents such as assault or sexual offences, there is no catch-all law to protect them from sustained child cruelty and neglect in the same way as there is for younger children.
The charity is lobbying for a change in the law to protect children aged 16 and 17 from abuse and neglect, and to ensure that support services, such as Child and Adolescent Mental Health services, always treat them as children and offer them support when they need it.
An estimated half a million 16 and 17 year olds face particular risk of harm because they are already dealing with multiple issues such as poverty, poor health or a lack of supportive relationships.
And almost half (45 per cent) of 16 and 17-year-olds asking their council for help with homelessness are turned away without being assessed for support.
Matthew Reed, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, says: ‘This research reveals that a generation of teenagers are being let down by society. Many are struggling with a range of issues but are dismissed as resilient enough to cope, and denied the same legal protection and services as younger children.
‘For the most vulnerable teenagers, those suffering from abuse, neglect and homelessness, and mental health issues, the future can be even more bleak. All children including those aged 16 and 17 should feel safe and supported and that’s why we’re urgently calling on the Government to change the law to protect all 16 and 17 year olds from abuse and neglect, provide better services to support them, and offer special protection for those who are most vulnerable.’
There is a misconception that teenagers do not require as much protection as younger children. But they are so often more in need of help than any other age group. They have greater freedom than younger children which can put them in potentially risky situations such as being exposed to drugs, alcohol or adults who intend them harm.
Teenagers suffering abuse and neglect may be overlooked by children’s services because they are deemed older and more resilient but lack financial independence to remove themselves from harmful situations.