Self-esteem is an important component of our concept of own identity. Evaluate the importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children.
Self-esteem is considered by academics as one of the most widely studied constructs in psychological literature (Magro et al., 2018, p. 1). It has been identified that self-esteem is a key element of self-concept and is important to our concept of identity – it additionally has significant implications for an individual’s psychological functioning (Siegler, Deloache and Eisenberg, 2006, p. 443; Crisp and Turner, 2010, p. 22). This essay will explore the topic of self-esteem and examine the importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children. This essay will commence with an explanation of self-esteem, its development and differing methods of evaluation before entering in a critical discussion surrounding its evaluation importance and usefulness in children.
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In this essay it is first necessary to clarify what is meant by the term ‘self-esteem’. In their article, Hosogi et al. (2012, pp. 1-2) highlight the difficult nature of defining this term, explaining that despite academic debate between psychologists a consistent definition of the term self-esteem has not been established. Myers and Twenge (2016, p. 42) define self-esteem as an individual’s own evaluation or sense of self-worth, while Berns (2016, p. 440) views the term as the value an individual places upon their own identity. Parallels can be drawn between the definition offered by Myers and Twenge (2016) and Brain and Mukherji (2005, p. 157), however the later delves deeper and provides a definition which covers positive and negative self-esteem; in which positive feelings about oneself are associated with positive self-esteem, and negative feelings about oneself or the absence of strong positive views are associated with negative self-esteem. Sedikides and Gregg (2002, cited in Crisp and Turner, 2010, p. 22) emphasise that self-esteem is a subjective evaluation which an individual makes of themselves as either positive or negative, a definition comparable to that of Brain and Mukherji (2005). Research conducted by Stets and Burke (2014, p. 409) resulted in the academics contending that self-esteem is comprised of three dimensions; self-worth, self-efficacy and authenticity. To summarise these definitions, Hosogi et al. (2012, p. 2) provides a definition for self-esteem which reflects the current field of psychology, that self-esteem is “a feeling of self-appreciation” (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 2) and an emotion which is of vital importance to both adults and children for their adaption to society.
Moving forward from identifying academic perspectives of the concept of self-esteem, it is next important to critically consider how self-esteem develops in children and the factors highlighted by researchers which further influence this development. Academics assert that young children have a high self-esteem, compared to later life stages, which gradually declines throughout childhood and adolescence (Robins and Trzesniewski, 2005, p. 159). Berns (2016, p. 441) specifies that as children develop they compile a complex set of evaluations about themselves. Simultaneously, children begin to understand how they are perceived by others and through socialisation internalise values and attitudes conveyed by individuals they deem significant and themselves express them. This results in children responding to themselves in a manner consistent with how people have responded to them, subsequently the child develops a self-esteem which can be described as high or low (Berns, 2016, p. 441). Four factors have been identified by Coopersmith (1967, cited in Berns, 2016, pp. 441-442) as contributing to the development of self-esteem; those being significance (perception of love and care by significant others), competence (perception of performance on tasks considered important), virtue (success in upholding moral and ethical standards) and power (extent of control over own life).
Academics have been able to identify multiple factors which influence the development of a child’s self-esteem; including the child’s environment, social interactions, age and sex (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3; Berns, 2016, pp. 442-446). It has been observed by academics that the environment in which a child is raised heavily influences the development of their self-esteem (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3). Harter (1983, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3) reports on four factors associated with the development of positive self-esteem in children; parent-child relationship, the mechanisms and means a child uses to cope with undesired emotions, self-acceptance and social behaviour. Research conducted by Coopersmith (1967, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3) further supports Harter’s (1983, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3) academic claim that the parent-child relationship is a factor in the development of positive self-esteem in children. Coopersmith (1967, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3) found that parents children rearing behaviour influences their children’s subsequent development of self-esteem; parents of children identified as having low self-esteem were distinguished as being emotionally unstable, as having low self-esteem, as demonstrating little concern towards the child and produced environments which were physically, emotional and intellectually impoverished. The impact of parenting on children’s development of self-esteem is also noted by Baumrind (1991, cited in Crisp and Turner, 2010, pp. 22-23), who found that children with high self-esteem were raised by authoritative parents who place demands on their children (impose rules and discipline) but are also responsive towards the child (warm and supportive). Berns (2016, pp. 444-445) identifies the importance of peers in influencing the development of children’s self-esteem; explaining that research has shown children’s self-esteem to be dependent upon their perceived popularity among peers. A study conducted by Kokenes (1974, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3) indicated that children’s self-esteem changes as they grow, and is at its lowest during early adolescence due to elements causing self-denial being more pronounced and elements causing self-acceptance being reduced. Sex has also been identified in research as a factor influencing in children self-esteem, with academics, notably Endo, Inoue and Araragi (1992, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 3), reporting that girls generally have a lower self-esteem in comparison to the opposite sex. However, Orth and Robins (2014, p. 382) refute this finding, arguing that gender does not significantly influence the development trajectory of self-esteem and that both genders show higher self-esteem in adolescence and midlife and a decline in later life.
It is asserted by Blascovich and Tomaka (1991, p. 116) that there exists “widespread acceptance of the psychological importance of self-esteem”. Crisp and Turner (2010, p. 23) explain that within social psychology many researchers have examined the consequences on individuals of having either high or low self-esteem. Mood regulation is an element of psychological functioning influenced by self-esteem levels. Literature has identified evidence suggesting that individuals with low self-esteem deal with life events in a different manner to those classified as having a high, or higher, self-esteem (Crisp and Turner, 2010, p. 23). Research conducted by Wood, Heimpel and Michela (2003, cited in Crisp and Turner, 2010, p. 24) exploring memories of positive events found individuals with low self-esteem were more likely to ‘dampen’ good feelings experienced compared to those with a higher self-esteem. This finding indicates that having a low self-esteem maybe maladaptive for the child, as such individuals make less effort to regulate their mood as they do not attempt to maintain a good mood following a positive life event (Crisp and Turner 2010, p. 24). Research conducted by Kasuya (2007, cited in Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 4) found lower self-esteem to be a factor influencing children’s non-attendance at school. Hosogi et al. (2012, pp. 3-4) details that a range of studies have indicated a link between a variety of psychological problems and low self-esteem. Academics have observed low self-esteem in adolescents with psychiatric disorders, including eating disorders and depression. A possible explanation for these findings it that inadequate development of self-esteem prevents children acquiring effective approaches to stress, which subsequently leads to the onset of such disorders (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 4). Low self-esteem in adolescence has been shown by Stinson et al. (2008, cited in Myers, Willse and Villalba, 2011, p. 28) to be a predictor of poor health. In regards to the impact of high self-esteem in children, Bern’s (2016, pp. 443-444) explains that students with higher self-esteem are more likely to be successful within school, citing how this relationship between achievement and self-esteem is visible in children of primary school age and becomes stronger as the child ages. Despite low self-esteem being frequently associated with negative behaviour (for which there is little supportive evidence), Baumeister, Smart and Boden (1996, cited in Crisp and Turner, 2010, pp. 24-25) propose that under particular circumstances, where an individual’s ego is threatened, those with an extremely high self-esteem, referred to as narcissism, may respond with greater levels of violence and aggression. This idea is supported by research conducted by Bushman and Baumeister (1998, cited in Crisp and Turner, 2010, pp. 25-26) who found a positive relationship between narcissism and aggression.
The importance of self-esteem has already been analysed in previous sections of this essay, if we consider the research findings that self-esteem impacts varying aspects of children’s lives it can therefore be considered important to identify levels of self-esteem so that inadequate self-esteem in children can be subsequently addressed (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 5). Within social psychology self-esteem is a hypothetical construct which has the ability to be quantified by researchers and child proffesionals (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991, p. 115). Hosogi et al. (2012, p. 2) highlights an array of methods used for evaluating self-esteem, and further identifies three specifically which are suitable to be used with children; Coppersmith Self-Esteem Inventory, Pope’s 5-Scale Test of Self-Esteem for children and the Kid- KINDL – however Blascovich and Tomaka (1991, p. 120) contend methods including the Rosenberg self-esteem scale (1965) and the Janis-Field Feelings of Inadequacy Scale can additionally be used to evaluate adolescent self-esteem. The Coppersmith Self-Esteem Inventory (SEI) was developed by Coppersmith (1967) and consists of 50 evaluation criteria. Children in this test are required to respond to each criteria statement, such as ‘I never worry about anything’, in one of two ways; ‘like me’or ‘unlike me’. Once completed, points are assigned to high-esteem statements that the child responds to as ‘like me’ and low self-esteem statements in which ‘unlike me’ was the response; therefore, scores on the SEI range from 0 to 50 (Blascovich and Tomaka, 1991, pp. 127-131; Hosogi et al. 2012, p. 2). A methodical weakness which can be applied to the SEI is the restriction placed on children’s responses, by adding to the two current responses of ‘like me’ and ‘unlike me’ an increasingly valid and useful measure of self-esteem would be gained. Pope’s 5-Scale Test of Self-Esteem for children consists of 60 questions which score and in turn evaluate children’s self-esteem within 5 scales; global, academic, body, family and social (Hosogi et al. 2012, p. 2). The next method of self-esteem evaluation to be considered is the Kid- KINDL. Formulated by Ravens and Bullinger, the Kid- KINDL comprises of 24 questions covering six areas and can be used to indicate and measure the quality of life (QOL) in children. Self-esteem is an area within QOL and can therefore be evaluated using this method (Hosogi et al. 2012, p. 2) – however, this method could be criticised for not being a pure evaluation of self-esteem due physical health and emotional wellbeing being key elements viewed as equally important to that of self-esteem in QOL. Blascovich and Tomaka (1991, p. 136) identify that evaluation of self-esteem in children possess obvious problems and methods used must be relatively simple and accommodating to the potential unsophisticated answers of children. As a result, Blascovich and Tomaka (1991, p. 136) propose the use of Piers-Harris Children’s Self-Concept Scale (1984) and the Harter Self-Perception Profile for Children (1985) when evaluating children’s self-esteem.
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Self-esteems significant influence on the psychological functioning of children and methods of evaluation have been explored throughout this essay, as a result a discussion can now be initiated surrounding the importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children. One point raised by Hosogi et al. (2012, pp. 1-4) is that through evaluating a child’s self-esteem child professionals are able to gain an understanding into the child’s past and present circumstances, from which support can then be tailored to fit the child and tangible treatment plans can be implemented. Another element suggesting the importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children is that by identifying a child as having low self-esteem allows for support to be provided to help improve levels of self-esteem for that child (Hosogi et al., 2012, p. 6). A final and critical point offered by Hosogi et al. (2012, p. 6) is that evaluation of children’s self-esteem is beneficial from a therapeutic perspective for those with psychological disorders, as by identifying the causes of and treating low self-esteem this can impact upon the prognosis of such disorders.
To conclude, academic literature surrounding self-esteem evaluation in children asserts that overall the use of methods such as the SEI and Pope’s 5-Scale Test of Self-Esteem for children have beneficial implications for the psychological wellbeing and functioning of children, particularly in the treatment of children with diagnosed psychological disorders (Hosogi, 2012, p. 4-6). However, it is noted by Orth and Robins (2014, p. 385) that a better understanding of the factors which influence self-esteem development is required before conclusions can be drawn on how self-esteem effects the life trajectories of children and the overall usefulness of child self-esteem evaluation.
- Berns, R.M. (2016) Child, family, school, community: socialisation and support. 10th edn. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning.
- Blascovich, J. and Tomaka, J. (1991) ‘Measures of self-esteem’ in Robinson, J.P., Shaver, P.R. and Wrightsman, L.S. Measures of personality and social psychological attitudes. London: Academic Press Limited, pp. 115-160.
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- Crisp, R.J. and Turner, R.N. (2010) Essential social psychology. 2nd edn. London: Sage.
- Hosogi, M., Okada, A., Fujii, C., Noguchi, K. and Watanabe, K. (2012) ‘Importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children’, BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 6(1), pp. 1-9.
- Magro, S.W., Utesch, T., Dreiskamper, D. and Wagner, J. (2018) ‘Self-esteem development in middle childhood: support for sociometer theory’, International Journal of Behavioral Development, pp. 1-10. doi: 10.1177/0165025418802462.
- Myers, D.G. and Twenge, J.M. (2016) Social psychology. 12th edn. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
- Myers, J.E., Willse, J.T. and Villalba, J.A. (2011) ‘Promoting self-esteem in adolescents: the influence of wellness factors’, Journal of Counseling and Development, 28(1), pp. 28-36.
- Orth, U. and Robins, R.W. (2014) ‘The development of self-esteem’, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(5), pp. 381-387.
- Robins, R.W. and Trzesniewski, K.H. (2005) ‘Self-esteem development across the lifespan’, American Psychological Society, 14(3), pp. 158-162.
- Sets, J. E. and Burke, P.J. (2014) ‘Self-esteem and identities’, Sociological Perspectives. 57(4), pp. 409-433.
- Siegler, R., Deloache, J. and Eisenberg, N. (2006) How children develop. 2nd edn. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.
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