“Too scared to talk”: One in four children feel unable to share worries with parents

Article date: 10 July 2014

Leading charity Railway Children is calling on parents to tackle tough conversations with their children to help prevent a child running away from home.

  • 100,000 children in the UK run away from their home each year, often from issues such as family changes, death and divorce1
  • Tackling conversations about these difficult topics could help prevent children from feeling isolated and thinking of running away from home
  • www.avivaconversations.co.uk launches today and invites parents to upload their most awkward conversation to raise awareness of the need for open dialogue at home and to help Railway Children support those who have no one to turn to

More than one in four children (27%) admit to keeping problems and worries to themselves because they are too scared to talk to their parents, a new survey2 by Railway Children and their long-term partner Aviva reveals today.

Despite the majority of parents (95%) believing they are open to tackling difficult subjects, the survey, among 500 parents and 500 11-16 year olds, reveals that many parents aren’t broaching topics such as family changes, divorce or death with their children.

A quarter of parents (24%) said that they hadn’t talked about family changes with their children, while one in five (22%) hadn’t broached difficult subjects like death or suicide. Nearly a third (31%) of parents admitted that they would only start a difficult conversation with their child when the issue arises.

The findings are a concern after research has shown that children who experience disruption in the family structure, including family change and divorce, are three times more likely to run away from home3, highlighting a real need to proactively discuss issues children can find distressing at home or at school.

Andy McCullough, Head of UK Policy & Public Affairs at Railway Children, which supports vulnerable young people alone and at risk on Britain’s streets said: “Every five minutes a child runs away from home in the UK. That's 100,000 children under 16 every year. These children run away for a variety of reasons such as problems experienced at school, relationship issues or family breakdown.

“Not having someone to talk to about these problems can result in feelings of desperation and helplessness for a child, which could lead them to think about running away from home. For any parent, discovering that your child has run away from home is the worst possible nightmare. But talking to your child and having open conversations, regardless of how awkward they might be, may be all it takes to prevent them from considering running away from home.”

The survey findings also highlight that two in five children (40%) report an overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation when they don’t have anyone to talk to, increasing to nearly half of girls (45% vs 36% boys).

The issues 11-16 year olds find it most difficult to talk about include sex (36%), romantic relationships (30%) and body image (19%), with a quarter of children saying that their parents have never tried to bring up these issues at all. As a result, one in five (21%) children admitted to turning to the internet for answers.

Psychiatrist Dr Sandra Scott said: “Every parent will know that having awkward conversations is a necessary part of parenting. But establishing an open and honest pattern of communication between parents and children from a young age is incredibly important. For parents, maintaining this for the future when their children grow older and face different, and more difficult, challenges, lets them know they always have someone to confide in.”

Railway Children and their long-term partners Aviva believe that every child should have someone to talk to and having open conversations are important, especially when they deal with difficult or sensitive issues. Aviva and Railway Children are asking parents to upload their most awkward parenting conversation at www.avivaconversations.co.uk to help raise awareness of the importance of an honest, open dialogue and pledge to continue tackling tricky subjects.

For every conversation included in the Awkward Conversations hub and/or any share directly from the hub, Aviva will donate £2 to Railway Children, up to a maximum of £100,000 or until the campaign closes on 25 August (whichever comes first).

Heather Smith, Marketing Director of General Insurance at Aviva said: “100,000 children run away from home in the UK each year and the true extent and scale of the problem is hidden and more can, and should, be done to address this. Through our work with Railway Children, we know that tackling tough conversations is vital to ensure children don’t become isolated and feel that running away is their only option. We are proud to be working closely with Railway Children and the money raised will provide much needed funding to support their continued work in the UK, helping vulnerable young people alone and at risk on Britain’s streets.”

Visit www.avivaconversations.co.uk to see what awkward conversations parents are having with their children and support the campaign. Please see the website for full terms and conditions.


For more information, contact:

Joey Ng – Hill + Knowlton Strategies – Joey.Ng@hkstrategies.com 0207 973 5941
Karen Butcher – Hill+Knowlton Strategies – Karen.Butcher@hkstrategies.com 0207 413 3181

Notes to editors

1. Still Running III' – The Children’s Society 2011.

2. Populus interviewed 510 parents and 502 children aged 11-16, online between 10th – 15th April 2014. Populus is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  For more information see www.populus.co.uk.

3. Still Running III – The Children’s Society 2011. 

The Children’s Society use the term ‘running away’ to refer to young people who indicated that they had either run away or been forced to leave home, and had stayed away overnight on at least one occasion.’

Additional findings:

  • Girls find it more difficult to bring up sex, romantic relationships, eating issues and problems at school with their parents than boys, and 25% of girls said they would use the internet or Google to find out more about a tricky issue.
  • 18% of children surveyed say they have thought about running away from home before
  • 18% of children say they know a friend who has run away before
  • 29% of parents know someone whose child has run away from home before but running away from home was the topic that parents were least likely to have discussed 
  • According to The Children Society’s Still Running III report, girls are more likely than boys to run away from home (10% vs 8%)

About Railway Children

Railway Children is a leading children’s charity fighting for vulnerable children who live alone at risk on the streets, where they suffer abuse and exploitation. In the UK, society often denies their existence, and in other countries the problem is so prevalent that it has become ‘normal’.

Children and young people run away or are forced to leave home where they suffer poverty, violence, abuse and neglect. They find themselves living on the streets because there is nowhere else to go and no one left to turn to. The problems they face on the streets are often even worse than those they endured at home. Every day we fight to change their story.

Railway Children race to reach children as soon as they arrive on the streets and intervene before an abuser can. Our pioneering work in the UK, India and East Africa enables us to get to street children before the streets get to them. For more information on how you can get involved visit www.railwaychildren.org.uk.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/railwaychildren
Facebook: www.facebook.com/railwaychildren
YouTube: www.youtube.com/railwaychildren

About Aviva

Aviva provides insurance, savings and investment products to 41 million customers worldwide.

We are the UK’s largest insurer with over 14 million customers and one of Europe’s leading providers of life and general insurance. We combine strong life insurance, general insurance and asset management businesses under one powerful brand. We are committed to serving our customers well in order to build a stronger, sustainable business, which makes a positive contribution to society, and for which our people are proud to work.

We are ranked as one of the UK’s top ten most valuable brands and Aviva Plc is in the top 10% of socially responsible companies globally in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index.  In 2011 we invested £5.3m into our UK communities. One in three of our employees were involved in community investment activities which included giving nearly 33,000 hours.

Aviva is working in partnership with Railway Children through the Aviva Street to School programme to get children living or working on UK streets back into everyday life.  Find out more at www.aviva.co.uk/street-to-school.

The Aviva media centre at www.aviva.com/media includes company information and a news release archive.

For broadcast-standard video, please visit http://www.aviva.com/media/video/.

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