Problems at home and school, as well as heavy social media use are key factors negatively affecting the mental health of Generation Z.
The findings come from a new report by the Education Policy Institute (EPI) and the Prince's Trust which reveals worrying levels of unhappiness and mental health issues in young people.
The research uses data from 5,000 young people aged 11, 14 and 17 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study – an ongoing analysis of the lives of young people from across the country – and highlights the impact of relationships, school life and various external factors on their wellbeing.
According to the findings, the wellbeing and self-esteem of young people noticeably drops once they start secondary school and continues to remain low until the age of 17.
The pattern is stronger in girls who not only have lower wellbeing and self-esteem than boys, but also experience a sharp drop in both factors around the age of 14.
Depressive symptoms are also more common in teenage girls, with the number of girls unhappy with their appearance markedly increasing between 11 and 14 from around 1 in 7 to 1 in 3.
For girls, wellbeing and self-esteem stabilises by the age of 17, but the study shows that both factors continue to decline in boys.
According to the report, the key drivers behind the numbers broadly fit into the three categories of family issues, school problems and social media use.
Teenagers from low income families and those that argue more with their parents are more likely to have low wellbeing and self-esteem, and experience more depressive symptoms.
Bullying during childhood is also linked heavily with poor wellbeing, with those bullied more being at a higher risk.
Social media is a driver of poor wellbeing in all teenagers, negatively affecting the self-esteem of girls more than boys.
“This research shows that the mental health of young people in Generation Z deteriorates markedly as they enter their teenage years, with girls in particular seeing a big drop in their personal wellbeing and self-esteem from around the age of 14," says Whitney Crenna-Jennings, report author and Senior Researcher at the EPI.
The new findings are of particular concern when put into context of the pandemic which, says Crenna-Jennings, will have "starved them of the vital relationships and experiences needed to support their journey through adolescence."
The report also states that physical activity can have a positive effect on wellbeing, with strongest effects seen among 14-year-old boys.
The study authors make several recommendations to combat the highlighted issues for teenagers, including the introduction of a £650 million funding package to improve mental health teaching and support capacity in schools.
Other recommendations include introducing a policy to tackle bullying, and to help improve young people's access to resources and areas for physical activity.
“The transition from childhood to adolescence can be turbulent, and the findings of this report underline why addressing and supporting young people’s mental health will only become more crucial as the impact of the pandemic unfolds," says Jonathan Townsend, UK Chief Executive of The Prince’s Trust.
“Young people are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, so it is more important than ever that they can access support with their mental health during this critical time in their lives."
To read the full report, click here.