Children say money can't buy happiness

Poor youngsters are just as content as rich ones,
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The Independent Online

Parents who for years have handed out wads of pocket money in an effort to make their teenage children happy have been wasting their cash. A new report shows wealth plays no part in making adolescents happy.

Parents who for years have handed out wads of pocket money in an effort to make their teenage children happy have been wasting their cash. A new report shows wealth plays no part in making adolescents happy.

Instead, the overwhelming influence on children's emotional state was the age of the child and its sex. Put simply: the older a teenager gets, the more miserable he or she becomes. And girls are a lot more miserable than boys.

The study of 1,300 children, aged 11 to 15, revealed poor children are just as happy as adolescents from wealthy families. Household income has no bearing on a child's happiness and nor does the pocket money teenagers receive.

A loving, large family contributes most to adolescent bliss. Boys were happiest when their fathers were unemployed and stuck at home for company - an indication that poverty does not always mean unhappiness. But that was offset by a slight swing in favour of two-parent households. An only child tends to be less happy.

The other factor, but less of an influence, was the pressure on children to conform to classroom peer pressure. That was most keenly felt by girls.

The research, by academics at York University and the Family Policy Studies Centre, has turned on its head conventional thinking, which has always suggested a link between teenage unhappiness and poverty.

"We were surprised by the findings," admitted Professor Jonathan Bradshaw, co author of the report Family Diversity and Poverty and the Mental Well-Being of Young People.

"Pocket money made no difference [to happiness]. And neither did it make any difference whether young people worked or not. Children's income did not appear to matter and neither did their parents' income."

The survey revealed children were four times as likely to be sad at the age of 15 than aged 11, while girls were three times more likely to be sad than boys. Children were categorised as "sad" if they admitted in a questionnaire to being unhappy or depressed on at least four days each month.

Almost a third of children admitted being unhappy on four or more days but just one in 16 felt unhappy or depressed on 11 or more days a month. Three-quarters never lost a night's sleep through worry while one in 20 lost at least three nights sleep a month.

The report, due to be published by the government-funded Health Education Authority, runs counter to what many child psychologists have always believed. The majority of children treated by psychologists tend to be from disadvantaged backgrounds but as one expert pointed out: "Poor kids get put into care, rich kids get sent to boarding school."

David Spellman, a consultant clinical psychologist at Burnley General Hospital, said most of the children he treated were from poorer backgrounds and suffered behavioural difficulties.

"My experience is children's depression is very heavily influenced by their economic situation. There are a lot of miserable kids at boarding schools, but they express their misery in different ways. Kids rarely get referred because they are depressed. They get referred because they are behaving badly," he said.

Mr Spellman had this advice for parents: "As a parent of a teenager you have a difficult task. It is important for parents to try and develop some understanding of the teenager's perspective. But there is a certain inevitability about teenagers wanting to argue and contradict their parents."

Teenager Keren Twito, who lives in Manchester, would be horrified to lose her £40 a month pocket money. "That would definitely make me unhappy," said the 14-year-old. The money funds shopping sprees and nights out with friends at the cinema. She reckons she is happier now she is older. "I have got more independence. I go out more now than when I was 11," said Keren, one of three children.

Her mother Sharon, aged 41, said: "She's a typical teenager. She's very happy. She's just horrible with us. We get the tantrums but she changes when she's with her friends."

Carly Davies says her £10 a week pocket money "makes me happy". But the 13-year-old from Huddersfield is saving the pennies rather than spending them. The only thing that makes her unhappy, she says, is walking. Carly, who wants to be a QC when she grows up, prefers it when her large family is all at home. "Otherwise," she said, "I get a bit bored and have to play with the dogs."

Adam Chambers, aged 11, is terrified of going to secondary school because of "all the hard work" - a common cause for distress among his age group.

Adam, from Portsmouth, receives £2 a week pocket money but does not seem bothered by it. He hates sport, except swimming, but enjoys computer games and drawing. One concern is his mother's choice of clothes for him ("She has such bad taste") but mostly he misses his father who works abroad for large parts of the year.

His mother Gina said: "It really affects his moods. When his dad first goes away he is miserable and very down. But then he picks up and just can't wait for his dad to come home."