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 ‘Uncertainty is the only certainty there is’ – Mathematician John Allen Paulos

If you’re a parent and living through the current challenging times of the pandemic, the above quote will very likely apply to you. As 2021 rolls on, it’s clear that we continue to travel on an uncertain path. And navigating this new terrain is proving challenging for many Aussie parents.

The publication of Real Insurance’s second Real Concerns of Parents report provides us with some insightful information about what is really on the minds of Australian parents today, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The report was based on research undertaken between 2 and 6 November 2020 and conducted via a quantitative online survey, gathering 1,207 responses from Australians with at least one child living at home, and 2,099 responses from the previous report (a subset of the total sample of 5,029 responses).

The sample is representative of the general population of Australian parents in terms of age, gender, wealth, and state/territory. Parents were asked about what was worrying them, and the degree to which these worries had changed over the last year.  Below, we’ll outline the data found by this survey.

Concerns about an uncertain future

With all of the bumps and hurdles of 2020, it is impossible to predict just what will happen next. Understandably, Aussie parents worry about what the future will be like for their children. A significant number of people surveyed rated current levels of stress and anxiety much higher than the time surveyed compared with last year (27.3 percent) and somewhat higher than the same time compared to the previous year (45.7 percent). Most people reported that financial concerns were their overall greatest concern (32.4 percent), family concerns such as the needs and welfare of the family unit (32.2 percent) and health concerns (12.4 percent).

Anxiety has increased

More than 70 percent of parents said they their anxiety and stress levels were either ‘much higher than this time last year’ or ‘somewhat higher than this time last year’. When asked about the thing they were most concerned about at the moment, financial and family issues remained at the top of the list. These were at fairly similar rates to last year. However there was in increase in the number of parents who said they felt most concerned about both the health and wellbeing of their children, and climate change, with these percentages increasing by 7 percent and 4 percent respectively.

Family-related issues

Family related concerns may be related to the quality of relationships, having time together and the level of happiness felt by family members. Parents are juggling the demands of working from home, and with schooling occurring at home too they are understandably worried about finding enough time for the family to connect. A large number of people surveyed reported that they were concerned about making sure that everyone in their family felt happy (69.5 percent overall) and preparing children for what may come (51.3 percent).

Many children are restricted from being able to see friends or extended family and in some households around Australia this causes some tension for some. There were a notably higher number of calls made from New South Wales and Victorian residents to Lifeline, Kids Helpline, and Beyond Blue in the twelve months to March 2021.

Financial concerns

All parents want to give their children the best start in life that they can. This includes being able to have enough money to give their children a head start, through education and activities that they believe will put their child at the top of the class. Parents worry about savings generally, with 57.9 percent also concerned about not having enough set aside for emergencies.  Financial constraints have consistently been a top concern amongst Australians.

For other families, having a college fund or savings for education is simply out of the question, and they are faced with worries about their capacity to pay even the day-to-day expenses and bills.

Work and education

As many parents around Australia still have children who are schooling at home, there has been a continued increase in concerns about academic performance. Parents are worried that their children’s education will suffer as a result of the pandemic, which in turn leads to worries about how difficult it might be for young people to get jobs in the coming years. As we see many industries struggling, and businesses closing down, job security is an increasing area of concern.

Climate change and environment related issues

We understand more than ever the impact that humanity is having on the environment. New information about the state of our planet continues to be published, and the message is that we need to take action sooner rather than later. Concerns about the legacy we leave for our children, the ongoing environmental degradation and the climate related disaster risks all mean that more than 85 percent of parents are concerned about the legacy they leave their children.

While we are unlikely to be moving past uncertainty any time soon, Professor Allen Paulos also said ‘knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.’ 

By recognising that uncertainty is here to stay and facing it head on, parents might be better able to take action to support and guide their children. This will give them the skills they’ll need to navigate the world of the future.