Irish dads improving? Big increase in children who 'find it easy to talk to their father'
Most children and teens in Ireland say they are happy with their lives and fewer are experimenting with alcohol, cigarettes and cannabis.
But there are also signs of rising stress levels, with many youngsters buckling under the strain, leaving them at risk of depression and anxiety.
The mixed snapshot has emerged in the latest 'State of the Nation's Children Report: Ireland 2016' released yesterday.
It prompted Minister for Children Katherine Zappone to comment that, overall, Ireland is a "great place to be a child".
She said: "Nine in 10 children are happy with their lives, which I am most pleased to see."
Positive findings include a drop in the number of fizzy drinks young people consume on a daily basis, a rise in the proportion who have never smoked, and a fall in cannabis use.
The report, which is a collection of existing surveys, shows 84.2pc said they have never smoked, compared to 59.8pc in 2002.
The percentage who have never taken alcohol rose to 58.3pc, compared to 47.2pc in 2006.
Around 10pc said they had been drunk as least once in the previous month, compared to 18.3pc in 2010. And fewer are trying cannabis - down from 15.7pc in 2006 to 8.8pc.
However, the hidden stresses which are blighting the lives of some young people are revealed in other disturbing figures.
In 2015, some 1,246 ended up in hospital emergency departments after self-harm .
There were two-and-a-half times more girls than boys in this predicament.
Between 2009 and 2015, the number of girls who presented to a hospital following self-harm rose by more than a third.
Ms Zappone said she was particularly concerned at these worrying trends.
Another dark cloud is the ongoing levels of children who are living in poverty.
More than one in 10 children is continuing to live in consistent poverty.
"This is unacceptable. The reduction in child poverty is a priority of mine and is central to Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the whole-of-Government policy on children and young people," said the minister.
One of the ways of lifting families out of poverty is improving access to childcare, allowing parents to work and to improve their income .
More families should be given the opportunity to pursue this following the expansion of the free preschool year, she added.
When it comes to education, the report says children have maintained a strong performance in reading literacy since 2012 and the gender gap in favour of girls has narrowed.
Overall performance in maths is around the same as in 2012, while ability at science is above the OECD average. Around 90.2pc of children now sit the Leaving Cert compared to 83.8pc more than a decade ago.
Immigrant children, Travellers and youngsters who have a chronic illness or disability are more likely to report being bullied at school.
More than half of 15-year-olds say their parents discuss how well they are doing at school with them several times a week.
There is evidence that fathers are playing a greater role in times of emotional pressure. The percentage of children who say they find it easy to talk to their father when something is bothering them has risen from 56.2pc in 2002 to 70.2pc.
More than three-quarters of 15-year-olds also sit down to the family dinner with their parents several times a week.