Self-esteem in general can be considered as the foundation of all behavior, whether normal or pathological. Personality itself is to some extend an expression of self-esteem. The simplest definition of the term equals it to one's assessment and evaluation of oneself at any particular time.
Self-esteem is highly variable It depends on the environment and those factors within the environment that have some impact on a person. It includes one's beliefs and emotions related to his or her self-image.
Self-evaluations in teenagers become increasingly analytical. During this stage in one's growth social relationships — such as being popular and having a boyfriend or a girlfriend — are very important and contribute significantly to his or her level of social self-esteem. Teenage boys and girls also start building a strong belief in their power and ability to influence and control their environment.
The transition from physical to a more abstract, psychological self-evaluation that takes place during the teenage period is a sign of cognitive advances in thinking and reasoning. The development of formal operational thinking has a significant effect on the self-esteem of teenagers. The focus of self-evaluation shifts to psychological traits such as feelings and relationships. As a result, one's self-image becomes more abstract as he or she develops. Teenagers stop using specific acts and qualities to evaluate themselves but they turn their attention to abstract evaluations. The self becomes less and less dependent on observable traits while conceptual traits become more important.
Teenagers believe that it is possible to assess an individual using opposite qualities and traits. One can be smart and stupid in different situations.
The idea of self-knowledge is another thing that changes with time. An external authority like a parent will usually give a child the truth about its self. Teenagers, however, believe that they know themselves better than anyone else. That change shows a qualitative shift in the structure of thoughts about oneself and others.
Some theorists argue that a significant amount of reorientation of self occurs during the teenage period. This reorientation is seen as a result of all the cognitive, physical and social changes that one experiences in adolescence. Thus self-esteem may become the subject of a period of reorganization that may include questioning one's values and goals and his or her purpose in life. This process sometimes leads to a feeling of discomfort and confusion.
There exists the common view that there is a drop in self-esteem in teenagers, though not all studies confirm this. Still no study has reported any upsurge in self-esteem during that period. According to most sources self-esteem in boys and girls in their early teens becomes less stable and more negative. This decline is greater in females than it is in males.
According to psychologist Robert Simmons and his colleagues 12-year-olds experience the largest negative change in self-esteem. Girls who have entered puberty earlier, girls who have started dating and girls who have changed schools are more likely to be affected. In boys, on the other hand, the environmental change, early dating and earlier development results in improved self-esteem. The reason for that huge difference is the fact that in girls self-esteem depends more on the outer world, while boys pay more attention to inner sources. Thus in order to boost their self-evaluation girls require the approval of others, while boys rely on being competent.
Another theory suggests that sex stereotypes impact on the gender differences in self-esteem. Teenage boys value more their achievements and leadership, while girls focus on congeniality and sociability. Most boys base self-image on athletic abilities while most girls focus on physical appearance. Social acceptance is far more crucial to girls than to boys.
At the same time, the connectedness and separateness from one's family is also of significant importance for teenagers. Three phases occur during adolescence that encourage teenagers to become more independent with adequate parental control needed in each of these phases. In their early teens boys and girls adopt an exaggerated pseudo-independent stance. During that time parents have to keep age-appropriate limits such as completing homework before play. In the mid-teens adolescents reach cognitive and social gains. At this point parents can bolster the responsibilities and rights of the teenager, with money management being a good example. In the late teens one's emancipation is the most important issue of development.