Report reveals unique insight into New Zealand Eight-Year-Olds
10 November 2020

New Zealand eight-year-olds are mostly living busy, healthy, happy lives in supportive families and developing a growing sense of their own identity and autonomy, but obesity, body image, mental wellbeing and screen time are emerging issues. 

Now we are eight

That’s the picture painted in the latest report from this country’s largest longitudinal study, Growing Up in New Zealand, which released its Now We Are Eight: Life in Middle Childhood report today. 

The report continues a series of “Now We Are” reports by the University of Auckland study which is following the lives of more than 6,000 children born in 2009 and 2010.

The report focuses on children’s lives and experiences at the age of eight and provides detailed information never-before collected from New Zealand children of this age.

 Growing Up in New Zealand principal investigator, Professor Susan Morton, says the report provides a unique portrait of the everyday reality of young Kiwi children.

“For the very first time, Growing Up in New Zealand interviewed the children directly at eight-years-old so this report provides valuable insights into children’s understanding of themselves, their families and their wider world,” she says. 

Professor Morton says this is the first New Zealand research to detail young children’s understanding of their own ethnicity and gender.  The report reveals that at eight: 

  • A third of children identify with more than one ethnicity, while one in seven did not think about their ethnic identity.
  • 2% of children identify with a gender different to that assigned to them at birth, while one in seven identify as being “somewhere between a girl and a boy”. 

The report also shows that eight-year-olds have increasing freedom and autonomy, with one in four urban dwellers allowed to walk alone around their neighbourhoods.  One in three rural children have this level of freedom. 

The children lead busy lives, with more than half being involved in extra-curricular activities such as sport or music. They are also digital natives and spend increasing periods of time on screens: 

  • 95% of children have access to at least one device at home. 
  • Children average nearly three-hours a day of passive screen time at home and one-hour of interactive screen time.
  • 12% of children felt worried about their safety online. 
  • A quarter of mothers reported concern about an online experience their child had had, usually related to inappropriate content.  

Professor Morton says average screen time has almost doubled since the pre-school years and it’s apparent that children are using devices more both at home and at school.  She says this provides opportunities as well as challenges for children and their families.

School is popular, with 80% of children enjoying school, but bullying is a common experience and more than a third of children said they were bullied in the past year. 

Most children are growing up in supportive family environments and more than half of mothers expressed a desire to be more involved in their children’s lives at this age. 
However, one in ten children were reported as regularly witnessing either psychological or verbal conflict between their mother and her partner. 

As has been previously noted by Growing Up in New Zealand, this generation of children and their families remain highly mobile. 

Three-quarters of all children have moved home at least once in their lives. A third live in homes that are often damp and mouldy.

Material hardship and not being able to afford everyday necessities remains a common experience for some Growing Up children, especially those living in high deprivation areas.  

  • One in ten children experienced material hardship (doing without six or more common household necessities).  This was more common for children who identified themselves as Māori or Pacific. 
  • 17% of mothers reported they “sometimes” ran out of food but 3% said this happened “always” for them. 

Professor Morton says Growing Up research shows that around a third of children had experienced persistent deprivation throughout their early lives. 
She says already by the age of eight these children were more likely to be experiencing poorer mental wellbeing than those who had not experienced poverty at any time in their early years.

“We know from previous research that children who experience persistent poverty in early life are more likely to face a multitude of poorer outcomes in adult life, but we also know that some children thrive despite experiencing ongoing adversity. We will be following these children’s stories carefully to learn more about what supports and protects children through hardship and what allows them to thrive and flourish as they transition from childhood into adolescence,” Professor Morton says.    

Overweight and obesity continue to be issues for this generation, with a greater proportion of children being classified as overweight or obese at eight-years compared with the pre-school years (34% compared to 14%). 

Of those children classified as obese, two-thirds stated that they wanted to be smaller. 

Professor Morton says the information contained in the Now We Are Eight report can help inform the development of policy and services to support the wellbeing of all children growing up in Aotearoa-New Zealand today.

“We are truly indebted to the Growing Up in New Zealand families because the information they provide helps us learn more about what supports families and whānau and what enables all young children growing up in Aoteoroa today to thrive and realise their full potential in our rapidly changing world,” she says. 

You can read the full Now We Are Eight report here. 

Growing Up in New Zealand is a University of Auckland study, managed by UniServices and funded by the New Zealand government through a contract with the Ministry of Social Development.