Shelter called for more long-term assurances to be built into rental contracts in order to give the children growing up in the sector greater stability, as it released its findings from more than 4,000 private renters in England.
Around one in five families rents privately, yet tenancy contracts tend to last for just six or 12 months, meaning children's lives are being disrupted by constant moves, the charity said in a report.
One in 10 renting families have had to change their child's school in the past five years because they have moved from one rented home to another, according to the report. Of the families who have moved in the last five years, 13% said this was "stressful or upsetting" for their children. A similar proportion of families said they had been forced to "sofa surf" with family or friends while between homes.
Despite recent Government efforts to make it easier for people to get on the property ladder, four out of 10 (43%) of renting families said that they expect to be living in the rental sector for the next 10 years.
The charity's chief executive Campbell Robb said: "These stark findings prove that today's volatile rental market is simply not fit for purpose. For the vast majority of renting parents, renting isn't a lifestyle choice, yet for many it's putting their children's education, happiness and wellbeing in jeopardy. Unpredictable rents and short-term tenancies are not only failing to meet the needs of families, they're doing real damage to children's lives."
"No child should have to deal with constant upheaval, a disrupted education and an atmosphere where parents are constantly worried about paying the rent or having to find somewhere new to live."
A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesman said: "There is no legal barrier to long-term tenancies. However, restrictive laws making this compulsory would mean fewer homes to rent, less choice and higher rents.
"With 75% of tenants moving out of choice, and only 9% of tenancies ended by the landlord, we are determined to do all we can to help tenants and landlords get a fair deal in a way that doesn't jeopardise that flexibility or strangle the industry in red tape. That's why we're investing £1 billion in our popular Build to Rent scheme, which will encourage more investors into the sector and increase choice for those looking to rent."