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Canadian Women’s Foundation survey reveals top challenges for school kids

A national survey conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation lays out the top challenges parents and caregivers believe children aged 9 to 19 have faced over the last two years — identity, bullying, and poor relationship skills top the list.
Teenage students in class (Troy Aossey-The Image Bank-Getty Images)
Teenage students in class

A national survey conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation lays out the top challenges parents and caregivers believe children aged nine to 19 have faced over the last two years — identity, bullying, and poor relationship skills top the list.

The findings come from a study released by Maru Public Opinion. The study was undertaken in July 2022. The research sampled 1,512 Canadian adults, out of which 272 participants were parents and/or caregivers with children aged nine to 19.

Results were weighted to match the Canadian population according to StatsCanada census data. Detailed findings are available at marugroup.net/public-opinion-polls/canada.

Among the top five challenges parents reported were low self-esteem and lack of confidence (56 per cent); bullying (49 per cent); isolation and lack of belonging (47 per cent); problems resolving conflicts (46 per cent); and mental health concerns (45 percent).

“We’ve seen that this isn’t just one survey,” explained Andrea Gunraj, VP of Public Engagement with the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “Other mental health surveys run in Canada have seen increased levels of these forms of anxiety, these concerns, these feelings of shaken identity and shaken belonging.

“I think that’s the story we really have to pay attention to.”

The Canadian Women's Foundation is Canada’s public foundation for gender justice and equality, Gunraj said. The organization’s efforts focus on moving women, girls, trans, two-spirited, and non-binary people out of poverty, out of violence, and into competence and leadership.

“We try to do everything we can to make that systemic change actually last, not just for today, but for tomorrow, to build a gender-equal Canada.”

Part of the problem with attempting to address these issues for minority groups such as the 2SLBGTQ+ community is that many people wonder why large amounts of resources should be devoted to populations that don’t necessarily represent everyone.

“There’s so much evidence to show that when you change things for people who are highly hurt, and impacted in a negative way, it makes things better for everyone,” Gunraj said. “You can look at that in terms of people with disabilities, for example — when you make things accessible for everybody, people of all abilities … it vastly changes the landscape and makes things better for everyone.”

Historically, Gunraj noted, focusing on correcting systemic injustices for minorities has been the foundation for advancements in human rights for everyone.

There is lots to say about what’s morally correct and what’s right to do, she continued, but targeting high risk populations is also the smart move and the most economical path to societal improvements.

One in three caregivers say their children have struggled with unhealthy relationships over the past two years, including 37 per cent of parents/caregivers of boys and 27 per cent of parents/caregivers of girls and gender-diverse youth.

“Starting from the personal is important, because individuals suffer unnecessarily, and these are preventable issues,” Gunraj said. “Because when we have over 50 per cent of the population — women and gender-diverse people — saying that they fear violence … we know that this is going to have reverberating impacts on our families, on our communities, on our relationships, in our workplaces, and even in our economy.”

The solution the Canadian Women's Foundation would like to see implemented is the teaching of healthy relationship education and social skills in public schools, at a consistent, national level, including:

  • What are the ingredients of a healthy relationship?
  • What does consent look like?
  • How does it look, feel, and sound when respect is present in a relationship?

“What children learn today lasts a lifetime,” said Paulette Senior, Canadian Women's Foundation president and CEO. “With urgent news stories about the prevalence of sexual violence and our need to challenge bullying and toxic masculinity, it’s clear that education around consent, healthy relationships, and conflict resolution isn’t only for girls.”

The Canadian Women's Foundation wants to see evidence-based national standards for that kind of curriculum.

“That kind of education, right now, depends on which school board you’re in, which school you go to, what teachers you have,” Gunraj added. “Certainly, it is not consistent across the country.

“I think it does take vision on the part of our educational leaders in Canada, and the people who are funding education to say that healthy relationship education is mandatory, and it will follow these guidelines and it will address these issues. That can have a huge impact.”

Learn more at canadianwomen.org