Factors Affecting Self Esteem in Adolescence

Adolescence is an important stage for the development of the self-esteem, it is a stage from childhood to adulthood. Several longitudinal studies find out that early adolescence is a typical time when the self-esteem declines (Fredricks & Eccles, 2002; Robins et al., 2002; Jacobs et al., 2002). These research supports Erikson’s opinion that young adolescents could experience more changes than in childhood and the negative changes could lead to the decrease of self-esteem.

During this time, adolescents become more cognitively sophisticated, the realities of the society might help them to have a clearer understanding of their abilities. The changes in physical and social development could decrease self-esteem. Therefore, Adolescence is a critical stage for the development of self-esteem and it is of great importance to analyze different factors that boost or impair self-esteem.

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The influencing factors on self-esteem can be various. Biology and cognitive development play important roles in regard of influencing self-esteem (Shaffer& Kipp, 2010). In order to narrow down the focus scope, this literature review will be centered on social contributors, which are the factors external to the adolescents.

The paper will be divided into two parts: literature review and research proposal. The first larger part will analyze previous research on different external factors that influence adolescents’ self-esteem, four main contexts will be discussed: family, school, peer and media, this part will finish by identifying the limitations in the existing research. The second part will introduce a research proposal that aims to give a holistic view in understanding different factors influencing adolescences’ self-esteem.

Literature Review

Family setting is important when considering developing adolescents’ characters and personal traits. This part will discuss family influence on children’s self-esteem from ?? parts: parental pattern, quality of family relationship (including parental relationship, siblings relationship, and parent-children relationship).

The relationships between the and the adolescent form a significant basis for adolescents to develop a healthy self-image (Mahler, Pine, and Bergman, 1975).

According to previous studies, parental pattern may influence the self-esteem of adolescents. A research made by Van Volkom (2009) revealed that college women who felt over-protected in the early years as well as currently may have low self-esteem. The possible explanation would be: children receive a negative message from their parents that they cannot take care of themselves, they also do not receive encouragement or trust from their parents regarding their abilities to handle different matters. These two factors lead to low self-esteem. Moreover, the research shows that participants’ family situation, such as parents’ employment and marital status (for example: divorce, separated, widowed or unmarried) , as well as birth order do not impact children’s self-esteem.

The existence of siblings also could impact adolescents’ well-being and self-esteem. A study compared adolescents with siblings and without siblings in Israel

The character and self-esteem of the parents can also influence children’s self-esteem. One research (Elfhag, Tynelius and Rasmussen, 2010) examines the self-esteem in 1,236 pairs of spouses, their 12-year-old children and 159 pairs of ex-spouses. This research tries to find the correlation of self-esteem in family setting. One of the results reveals the parent-child association in self-esteem: girls’ global self worth is positively correlating with their mothers’ global self worth. Elfhag et, al. (2010) explain that family environment can contribute to the formation of self-esteem.

Besides parental pattern and parent’s own characters, he quality of parents’ relationship also have a great influence on adolescences’ self-esteem.

Contrast to conclusions from Elfhag et, al. (2010), who assert that parental divorce does not influence children’s self-esteem, Kim (2011) believes that divorce does have a negative impact on children’s self-esteem. He examined the influence of three different parental divorce stages ( pre-, in-, after- divorce) on children’s cognitive skills and non cognitive traits, and found out that negative consequences of parental divorce are most prominent when parents are in the process of getting divorced. Compared with children from intact families, children whose parents are in the stage of divorce are more likely to have problems with ‘anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, and sadness’ (Kim, 2011:501). This can be explained that when parents are in the process of divorcing.

Lau (2007) identifies different patterns of post-divorce parental alliance in Hong Kong parents. The 6 different patterns are harmonious co-parenting, harmonious parallel parenting, supportive parallel parenting with some conflicts, disengaged parallel parenting, enmeshed co-parenting, and antagonistic conflicting parenting. The result shows that conflicting parental relationship has a destructive impact on children’s well-being, and harmonious parental alliance is also negatively associated with children’s self-esteem. Lau explains that inadequate coordinations between the parents pose strain on the children, and the struggle between children’s desire for autonomy and their perceived filial obligations.

For students who have more mother acceptance/ involvement, they display comparatively higher level of self-esteem, parent-adolescent relationship does not affect the self-esteem of the adolescents.(Nyarko,2012)

Even the health condition of the parents can affect adolescents’ self-esteem. A research taken in Nepal found that children with parents who suffer from leprosy have significantly lower self-esteem than children whose parents do not have


For adolescents, school is the place where they spend most of the daily time. In the school, they interact with teachers, students, and administrators. Therefore, it’s fair to ask does school experiences contribute to adolescent health development, especially self-esteem ?

Previous research approve that in general, school experiences do affect adolescents’ self-esteem. One of the key roles of school is passing on the knowledge and proving different skills to the next generation. Therefore, the content of lessons is of great importance. A study shows that life skills training in school helps to boost self-esteem (Esmaeilinasab et al., 2011). The research randomly divided 160 Iranian male students into two groups: study group and control group. Participants in study group received altogether 500 minutes life skills training from 4 experienced counselors, and students in control group did not attend any life skills training courses. Result shows that the mean score of self-esteem is higher in study group than in control group, and the difference is significant (P<0.001).

Ma (2007) argues that perceived academic status can also influence adolescents’ self-esteem. Students who consider themselves having high academic status have higher self-esteem than students who consider themselves having low academic status. This finding is supported by a Korean study which suggests that the slope of academic achievement is positively related to the growth rate of self-esteem among Korean adolescents (Lee, 2012). The perceived safety in school also influence student’s self-esteem.When the students feel safe in school, they have higher esteem (Ma, 2007). And ninth graders in schools with unfair school rules have higher self-esteem than ninth graders from schools with fair school rules. The reason behind this result is that a feeling of unfair school rules could encourage the students to form gang-like friendship to protect themselves. This explanation may lead to another area which worth considering: school violence.

Violence in school has always been a big problem, students may receive maltreatment from students as well as teachers. Research by Kang and Sheng (2011) reveals that in Taiwan, student perpetration does not successfully predict low self-esteem, and ‘accounts for almost no proportion of self-esteem’ (Kang & Sheng, 2011:493). More surprisingly, maltreatment by teachers has very limited impact on students’ self-esteem and depression. All these findings are contradictory to previous Western studies (Baumeister et al., 1996; Benbenishty and Astor 2005). Those studies indicate that school violence is strongly related to low self-esteem and maltreatment from teacher can reduce the level of self-esteem. Kang and Sheng (2011) attribute the difference to different cultural settings: in Asian culture, students may perceive violence from adults as a natural way of punishing, thus do not see it as a problem affecting their self-esteem.

How the knowledge delivered in the classroom can also impact students’ self-esteem. The classroom used to be teacher-centered, which means most of the time in the classroom is always about teachers’ talking and students do not have enough chance to express their own opinions and collaborate with other students. Through a comprehensive literature review, Tedesco (1999) believes that cooperative learning has a positive impact on students’ self-esteem. It allows students to form a group and help each other with studies. By working together, students can develop social skills, build positive peer relations and improve their academic achievement.


When adolescents seek independence from their parents, they may spend more time with their peers and interact more often with their peers (Smith, Cowie & Blades, 2011).

Shaffer and Kipp (2010) point out that peer influence on self-esteem become more apparent when the children enter the phase of adolescence, and the quality of the friendship plays the most important part in deciding adolescents’ self-esteem. During this time,

There is a negative relationship between adolescent-peer relationship and their self-esteem (Nyarko, 2012)

Larson (1994), e.g. reported no relationship between participation in various extracurricular activities and self-esteem. Larson, R. (1994). Youth organisations, hobbies, and sports as developmental contexts. In R. K. Silbereisen, & E. Todt (Eds.), Adolescence in Context: The Interplay of Family, School, Peers, and Work in Adjustment. New York: Springer.


No relationship was found between TV viewing and self-esteem. (Nihill, Lubans & Plotnikoff, 2013)

Media plays an important part in adolescences’ daily lives. One common area that has been investigated in the media’ influence on adolescences’ body satisfaction,

Many magazines target at adolescents and often focus on fashion, luxury, and items that usual adolescents cannot afford (Anderson & Didomenico, 1992); moreover, the models presented in the magazines are often fit or slim, which cause a increase body dissatisfaction among women (Fernandez & Pritchard, 2012). Newman and Dodd (1995) found out self-esteem is negatively related to the reading of sports magazines, television and movie guides. However, it cannot be concluded that fashion magazine viewing can influence adolescents’ self-esteem. Research done by Smeesters and Mandel (2006) show that exposure to thin ( not very thin ) models does not have a negative impact on girls’ self-esteem.On the contrary,it bring a positive impact on one’s self-esteem.

With the rapid development of technology, Internet has became very common in adolescents’s life, especially for adolescents from developed countries. Along with that, smart phones has became a common accessory for students from western world. Social networking sites (SNS) such as Facebook and Twitter have created a new method for self-representation, especially for young people.

For the research approves that exposure to thin (not very thin) models bring positive impact on adolescents’ self-esteem, the definition of ‘thin’, ‘moderately thin’ and ‘extremely thin’ is not clearly defined in the article, and they are purely personal opinions, which may vary on different people with different body shapes. Therefore, the effectiveness of this research method is doubtable.

In contrast to Richins’s findings, we demonstrated that exposure to thin models does not necessarily have a negative impact on one’s self-esteem.

Gonzales and Hancock (2011) found that Facebook has a positive effect on self-esteem. The research contain three different groups: participants in the first group finish self-esteem scale after viewing their own Facebook profile, participants in second group finish self-steem scale while being exposed to their own reflection in the mirror, participants in the third group finish the questionnaire without computer nor mirror. Results show that Facebook has a positive effect on self-esteem relative to a traditional objective self-awareness stimulus. Contrast to this, another research suggests that Facebook use does not have a direct impact on self-esteem, but has a positive direct effect on relatedness, and self-esteem can be an outcome of relatedness (Abellera et al. , 2012). Relatedness exerts mediating effect on Facebook use and self-esteem.

Since the emergence of new technology, a new form of bully is getting more attention- cyberbully.

Limitations of previous research (poor methodology, different conclusion, little research,)

For the negative influence of parental divorce on adolescences’ self-esteem, one explanation given by Lau (2007) is that children may suffer from the conflict between their aspire for autonomy and perceived filial obligation, how ever, this reason may not be powerful in explaining the same situation in western world, where filial obligations is not strongly emphasized compared with Asian countries, and the limited sample may fail to represent a whole picture of the post- divorce parental patterns’ influence on children’s self-esteem.

For the research on the impact of life skills training courses, although the result shows that it has a positive impact on students’ self-esteem, the applicability of the result on female students is uncertain, since all the participants are male students.

For the research that believes Facebook has a positive effect on self-esteem, on argument is that in reality, Facebook users usually spend more time on other people’s profiles rather than their owns, and they would probably look more frequently at mirror than their Facebook profiles. Moreover, each session only took 3 minutes, there is a question about weather it is a suitable amount of time, will the results differ if participants spend more or less time on their self images or Facebook profiles?

To conclude, previous research has several shortcomings: inadequate sample,

Research proposal (details of participant group, data collection, experimental design)

Based on the limitations of previous research, a new way of analyzing the overall influencing factors on self-esteem is needed.

The participants would be first asked to finish questionnaires which measure self-esteem. The questionnaire could be ???

The results of the questionnaire would help to identify adolescents with low self-esteem. The second phrase would invite participants with low self-esteem to participate in interviews. Through the interview, participants may discuss with interviewers about their experiences, and why they feel they have low self-esteem.

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