Adolescent Mothers' Self-Esteem and Role Identity and Their Relationship to Parenting Skills Knowledge

Article excerpt

Adolescence is a period of struggle to gain a positive role identity (Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987; Rasmussen, 1964), stabilize self-concept, and enhance self-esteem (O'Malley & Bachman, 1983; McCarthy & Hoge, 1982). Even though adolescents experience many major social, emotional, physical, and cognitive changes, data indicate that this period is not characterized by psychosocial disturbances except possibly during early adolescence (12-13 years of age) (Demo & Savin-Williams, 1992). In Wylie's (1979) summary of the data on adolescent self-esteem, he noted no relationship between self-esteem and age, which supports the view that adolescence is not a time of major self-esteem disturbances. More recent studies offer further support in that findings show increases in self-esteem between the ages of 15 and 23 (O'Malley & Bachman, 1983; Nottelmann, 1987; Savin-Williams & Demo, 1984). The data suggest that the changes experienced during adolescence are a continuation rather than a disruption of development (Demo & Savin-Williams, 1992).

According to Erikson's theory, the primary developmental task of adolescents is to achieve a positive role identity (Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987; Rasmussen, 1964). One essential factor in achieving a positive role identity is the understanding by adolescents of their present self in terms of their past developmental achievements, and uniting it with their future aspirations and expectations of competence (Shirk & Renouf, 1992). This sense of continuity between present, historic, and future self is a hallmark of resolving one's identity crisis. Another hallmark of an achieved identity is positive self-esteem (Gross, 1987). In order to resolve the identity crisis, adolescents need an opportunity to feel that they are persons of worth.

Once adolescents have a positive sense of worth and a basic sense of continuity of self, they are ready to move to succeeding psychosocial stages (Erikson, 1963). Adolescents then focus their psychosocial energy on intimacy formation - sharing themselves with another person while maintaining their own identity. Once basic identity and intimacy have been achieved, they enter the generativity stage of parenting (Erikson, 1963; Gross, 1987).

Following Erikson's theory, it was assumed here that positive self-esteem should be a predictor of positive parenting; that is, competent parenting requires that the mother has achieved a mature sense of psychosocial identity (Ketterlinus, Lamb, & Nitz, 1991). Thus, understanding how adolescent self-esteem relates to eventual parenting is necessary for delineating the predictors of positive parenting practices by adolescent mothers. It is important to underscore that this conclusion is based upon the assumption that developmental stages are more predictive of behavior than is age. However, it is recognized that age and developmental stages are correlated.

This study explores the question of how the adolescent mother's self-esteem relates to her knowledge of parenting skills. The literature review that follows summarizes the findings to date.

Adolescent Parenting

Parenthood for adolescents remains a serious concern. Adolescent mothers are more likely than their peers who did not become pregnant during adolescence to live below the poverty level, to be unemployed, and to hold lower-paying jobs if employed (Furstenberg, Brooks-Gunn, & Morgan, 1987; Brooks-Gunn & Chase-Lansdale, 1995; McLaughlin, Pearce, Manninen, & Winges, 1988). Data indicate that adolescent mothers as compared to adolescents who relinquish their babies for adoption have lower educational attainment, marry earlier, and have another child sooner (McLaughlin et al., 1988).

In 1991, 115 of every 1,000 adolescent females between the ages of 15 and 19 became pregnant (Ventura et al., 1995). Approximately 90% of African-American and 54% of Caucasian adolescent mothers remain unmarried (Furstenberg et al. …