COUN503: Introduction to Research
Behavioral and psychological problems are common during the adolescent years. Improving self-esteem to healthy levels will minimize or eliminate these issues. It is also shown to have a positive impact on physical health as well. Having high self-esteem has been given a tremendous about of attention lately, and seen as a way to mitigate a variety of social ills. Adolescents with higher self-esteem are proved to do better in school, avoid drug abuse, and have successful social interactions. That is why studies on the influence of self-esteem on the adolescents’ life are not rare. Assessment of self-esteem is required in order to understand what method should be applied to improve it. There are some effective measures such as interventions of professionals or different governmental initiatives devoted to improve self-esteem of youth and to increase their satisfaction with their lives. Such methods can be individual or group and have impact on self-esteem using different approaches.
Current Research on Available Impact of Self Esteem in Adolescents
Self-esteem has recently become a matter of concern for parents, teachers, and administrators. Low self-esteem is often seen as the source of all troubles and while high self-esteem is almost equaled to great success. However, before developing high self-concept and self-esteem, it is better to understand why they are important and how exactly they influence life of a person. As M. Manning states “self-concept refers to a student’s perceptions of competence or adequacy in academic or nonacademic (e.g. social, behavioral, and athletic) domains and is best represented by a profile of self-perceptions across domains” while “self-esteem is a student’s overall evaluation of him- or herself, including feelings of general happiness and satisfaction” (2007). Assessment of students’ self-esteem should be done using theoretically sound, empirically validated instruments and interpreted by specially trained professionals. This done, some interventions or other actions can be implemented.
Daniels and D'Andrea (1995) offered a method that allows assessing self-esteem of children and teenagers. They conducted their study to examine the impact of self-esteem on moral development in Hawaiian youth. The hypothesis was that high self-esteem will show positive impact on the moral development of children and adolescents. There were 80 participants in the study conducted in rural areas of Hawaii, with low to middle income students. This area was chosen to examine participants from a distinctive cultural background because more frequently such studies refer to people such as white, middle-class adolescents. Students were volunteers and the mean age for the participants was 14.6 years. Students were presented by researchers with a moral dilemma such as those illustrated in Aesop’s Fables. Specifically, “The Porcupine and the Moles Fable” was read to each participant and they were asked a set of standard questions (i.e., “What is the problem?” “How would you solve the problem?”). This was designed to measure moral reasoning ability. All of the interviews were recorded and transcribed by persons not affiliated with the research project. Two independent scorers were used to ensure reliability of the coding assigned to the Hawaiian students’ responses to the fable. Using this testing procedure resulted in a 95% agreement rating in the way that the scorers categorized all of the participants’ recorded responses.
The second part of the study was designed to measure the participants’ level of self-esteem. Students were administered the Culture-Free Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI). It is a self-report scale designed to measure an individuals’ perception of themselves. The scale has two different forms. Form A is used to measure the self-esteem of elementary and intermediate school-age students. It consists of 60 statements that are answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The second form is AD, and is used to measure the self-esteem among secondary school-age students and adults. This form consists of 40 items in which persons are given the same instructions as those mentioned for Form A. The SEI can be administered individually or in group settings. For this study, the SEI was administered individually. It took between 15 to 20 minutes to administer and score this instrument for each student who participated in the investigation. Both Forms A and AD contain three common subscales (Daniels and D'Andrea, 1995). Battle (1981) also made a similar research where they included the General Self-Esteem subscale, the Social/Peer-Related subscale, and a Lie subscale (which measures an individual’s level of defensiveness). Only the scores obtained on the General and Social/Peer-Related subscales were used in this study.
The SEI has been found to be a reliable and valid measure of youngsters’ self-esteem (Battle, 1981) reported test-retest reliability coefficients for a total sample of students to be .93 for boys and .89 for girls. Concurrent validity studies provided correlations that ranged from .71 to .80 for all students with values ranging from .71 to .80 for boys and .72 to .84 for girls (Daniels and D'Andrea, 1995). As a result of such studies, Battle (1981) came to conclusion that the relationship between children’s self-esteem and intelligence is weak, statistically significant, and positive. The correlation between self-esteem and depression is found to be negative. Those students whose academic achievements were more successful have higher self-esteem than those who had learning difficulties. However, in Battle’s opinion “one’s self-esteem is not dependent on any particular factor (e.g. academic achievement), but on a combination of factors” (1981).
The original Janis-Field Feelings of Inadequacy scale (JFS) was developed 1959 and represents 23-item test that is designed for attitude change research. This scale is multidimensional and “measures self-regard, academic abilities, social confidence, and appearance” (Heatherton and Wyland, 1991, p. 225). However, this model was modified a number of times. The reliability of estimate was 0.91. It was considered to be the best multidimensional model to examine components of self-esteem and to measure them. The Rosenberg self-esteem scale is mostly used for measurement of the global self-esteem. The internal reliability being very high, the RSE represents a model that consists of 10-item scale. These items correlate with mood measures. However, this model also has some problems. Heatherton and Wyland (1991) state that “those questions that were worded in a negative direction loaded on the “negative” factor and those that were worded in a positive manner loaded most heavily on the “positive” factor, thereby suggesting a response set” (p. 226). The State self-esteem model is used for laboratory manipulations with self-esteem because it is very sensitive. It is made up of three factors: performance, social, and appearance self-esteem. Heatherton and Wyland (1991) wrote that “the decision to use a trait or state measure of self-esteem, therefore, depends on whether one is interested in predicting long-term outcomes or in the immediate effects associated with feelings about the self” (p. 226).
Speaking about effective methods how to improve self-esteem of adolescents, it must be taken into account that the assistance of family is as important as professional help. Low self-esteem can be prevented if primary antecedents of self-worth are satisfactory. For example, people can feel better if they are recognized for their success in the domains of importance or is they get approval from significant others. Manning (2007) argues that “self-perceived physical appearance has the strongest relationship to overall self-esteem”. Significant others should support these perceptions of competence in adolescents. Parents and peers are extremely important for the students’ self-esteem. The younger people are the more important is parental approval. With the passing of the time, peers influence increases, but the parents’ influence never declines. Psychologists can help people and peers be more effective in providing positive reinforcement and student be more aware of the support they have. However, professional help is mostly used in other methods of self-esteem correction.
There are lots of methods aimed at improving self-esteem such as interventions, group activities or other initiatives. Interventions can be more or less effective “depending on the population of the client(s)” (Townsend, 2013). Such tool as character education is wide known and commonly used when young adolescence is in question. The key aim of it is to encourage safe behaviors, friendly and healthy relationships and safe environment. Townsend states that “the presence of a positive adult role model, a common factor in character education, has shown to impact student self-esteem and academic achievement” (2013, p. 17). Being a foundation for students to learn how to be respectful and responsible, character education cannot eliminate low esteem completely. Other kinds of direct or indirect interventions should be used in such cases.
Individual counseling is based on building trusting and friendly relationship between counselor and student and builds a safe, accepting environment. It can not only improve the self-esteem, but also foster responsibility and encourage parental communication. Self-esteem improves automatically by the rising feeling of competence and personal achievements. Self-esteem is literally central to the process of counseling. Individual approach is useful because it provides a basis for a hard look at oneself. A supportive counselor just directs a person the way he or she should go to get rid of their problems. Individual in this case means “person-centered”, thus it allows focusing on the special needs. A professional who can provide a client with a new view of his or her personal history and worthiness can change his or her view on the present him- or herself, allowing feeling more confident and competent.
However, individual counseling lacks one very important feature: peer interaction. Townsend states that “adolescence is a time where the social world is front and center” (2013, p. 17). Experiential guidance that can be exchanged between people of the same age and with common problems is another tool that can help improve self-esteem of both. This is why group setting, that can provide comfort of sharing common troubles and problems, is another possibility to solve the problem of low self-esteem. Moreover, school counselors face lack of time, and group meetings allows them to address the needs of more children simultaneously and to foster the process by encouraging contribution of other group members.
Group counseling is effective in combating problems with self-control and class behavior, delinquency, academic underperformance and even eating disorders. It brings up the feeling of belonging and connectedness. Townsend writes that “though a therapeutic relationship can be achieved between students and school counselors in individual counseling, student-student cohesion can be even more powerful during a developmental period focused on peer interaction” (2013, p. 19). Being focused on the improvement of self-esteem, group counseling can contribute to social learning and skill building. Adolescents feel more confident, they have commitment to participation and they understand that they need to follow group rules. By communicating within groups, participants develop their intrapersonal skills which also have impact on self-esteem. They exchange their experience, and by doing this, develop understanding of each other.
Group counseling is also effectively applied when working with girls with eating disorders. Then the meetings are more focused on specific kinds of talks and thoughts. “Negative self-talk is refocused toward any positive characteristics client identified”, when positive one is devoted to identification of such characteristics and strengths, and increases positive self-concept (Townsend, 2013, p. 20). Delinquent or bad class behavior may be a byproduct of other emotional challenges. In such cases group counseling is devoted to discover deep underlying issues because temporary fix of those ones that are obvious will not bring the expected positive results.
Each group can differ in its level of directivity. The approach applied in the groups should be adjusted to the needs of its members. In general, adolescents, who discussed insecurities and developed social skills at the same time helping each other to overcome problems, demonstrated improvements in their self-esteem and an increase in achievement. Moreover, school-based counseling is psychoeducational in nature. This means they are directed at correcting specific behaviors. They usually have schedules and are based on training on a specific issue.
Wellness-based group counseling is another type of group settings that is focused on the whole person trying to invoke “all-encompassing entities, such as love and spirituality” to address the problems with self-esteem and self-concept (Townsend, 2013, p. 21). Latest researches proved that wellness factors have positive impact on the client(s) self-esteem. It works better with girls than with boys by lessening their negative thoughts about their personal self, improving their behavior and increasing their desire to care and respect themselves.
During counseling sessions adolescents often identify such personal strengths that they did not even realize they had. They begin to understand their personal self and assess their abilities and strengths which also contribute to the feeling of competence. A counselor creates opportunities for client(s) to learn their personal capabilities. In a group setting, adolescents are also engaged in the role-playing situations that require risk-taking and decision-making. Counseling meetings develop a feeling of support which is provided from somebody outside family circle. For adolescents it is very important to get a feeling that they are not alone with this problem and that society accepts and understands them. “Feelings of inadequacy and fear of peer rejection were common among group participants”, states Townsend (2011, p. 32). Sessions with a counselor in private or in group can make adolescents realize which expectations are real and achievable and which ones are vain. This decreases fears of rejections.
Governments, public and charity organizations, and funds also collaborate in order to engage young people to different kinds of activities that could help develop their talents and skills. Thus they cannot avoid facing the problem of low self-esteem and motivation in the youth. For the purpose of overcoming such problems, all the above mentioned institutions are engaged into providing some programs for adolescents. Such programs proved in practice that high self-esteem is directly connected to higher social support and resilience. Low self-esteem often leads to anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. High self-esteem is a significant factor for life satisfaction. Adolescence is a very important period when a lot of changes happen, and this is why it is important to foster higher and more stable self-concept during these volatile years.
The amount of such programs is huge. They are based on different theories and have their own views on “what damages or depresses self-esteem and what can raise it” (Elmer, 2001). In the United States there is a National Council for Self-esteem that provides all the necessary data on this issue. The variety of ways developed to help improve self-esteem is immense. Some programs offer individual therapy, others are group-based or function for the whole family. There are self-help, peer-tutoring and other kinds of activities that differ in length and intensity. Some programs are designed to tackle low esteem that resulted from a discrepancy between high aspirations and lower achievements. It aims at making aspirations less sky-high, thus making achievements more reachable. This again proves that “self-esteem is shaped by achievements in different domains – school, social life, family, body – and the program proceeds from diagnosis of each individual’s profile of self-esteem needs” (Elmer, 2001).
Morton and Montgomery (2011) researched youth empowerment programs (YEPs) and concluded that they “are designed to build on the assets of young people through a focus on active participation, mastery experiences, and positive connections in order to improve developmental outcomes and positive transitions to adulthood” (p. 5). Among the most common YEPs one can find youth councils, social action and advocacy groups, peer education models, teen centers and so on. The one fundamental feature is the fact that they all integrate youth and direct them to the program decision-making. The authors state that “by engaging young people as valued partners in challenging and supported opportunities to contribute and exercise skills, YEPs aim to improve young people’s beliefs in their personal worth as well as their ability to shape their lives and environments” (Morton and Montgomery, 2011, p. 14). The authors came to conclusion that YEPs impact on self-esteem is not very sufficient; however there are some obvious positive results. Moreover, there is no evidence of harm made by such programs implementation.
Self-esteem is one of the fundamental psychological characteristics that has influence on the achievements and success of a person in his or her private and professional life. Period of adolescence is crucial for the formation of self-esteem and self-concept. Low self-esteem is often seen as a cause for misfortune and underperformance. Self-esteem can be assessed and on the basis thereof some conclusions may be drown. There are lots of other problems that result from misunderstanding of the personal self and low self-esteem such as child delinquency, bad class behavior, eating disorders and so on. Family and relatives can provide support and approval for their children that will improve their self-esteem. However, there are also professionals who organize individual or group settings to help adolescents to believe in themselves and to understand their worthiness. Counseling and youth programs can be very effective as methods to effectively improve self-esteem of adolescents.
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Manning, M. (2007, February). Self-Concept and Self-Esteem in Adolescents. Student Services, 13-15. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/families/selfconcept.pdf
Morton, M. and Montgomery, P. (2011). Youth Empowerment Programs for Improving Self-Efficacy and Self-Esteem of Adolescents. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 5. Retrieved from http://www.campbellcollaboration.org/lib/download/1402/Morton_YEP_Review.pdf.
Townsend, E. (2013). The Effectiveness of Group Counseling on the Self-Esteem of Adolescent Girls. Counselor Education Master’s Theses. Paper. 142. Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1141&context=edc_theses