Maternal Perceptions and Adolescent Self-Esteem: A Six-Year Longitudinal Study

By Heinonen, Kati; Raikkonen, Katri et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2003 | Go to article overview

Maternal Perceptions and Adolescent Self-Esteem: A Six-Year Longitudinal Study


Heinonen, Kati, Raikkonen, Katri, Keltikangas-Jarvinen, Liisa, Adolescence


Self-esteem, conceptualized as evaluative judgments about self (e.g., Coopersmith, 1967; DuBois, Felner, Brand, Phillips, & Lease, 1996) or as overall feelings of worth or value as a person (e.g., Harter, 1998; Rosenberg, 1979), has been consistently found to be related to a wide area of adjustment and well-being, such as social relationships (Dekovic & Meeus, 1997), school achievement (Keltikangas-Jarvinen, 1992), resilience to stressful life events (Dumont & Provost, 1999), depression (Hammond & Romney, 1995), suicidality (Wichstrom, 2000), substance abuse (Scheier, Botvin, Griffin, & Diaz, 2000), personality disorders (Watson, 1998), and eating disorders (Willcox & Sattler, 1996). Self-evaluations start to develop in early childhood (see Bowlby, 1982; Harter, 1998) and are relatively stable after adolescence (Block & Robins, 1993; Kling, Hyde, Showers, & Buswell, 1999; O'Malley & Bachman, 1983). View of primary source of self-esteem varies according to theories and definitions of self-esteem. William James (1890), a pioneer of self psychology, has suggested that self-esteem develops through one's feelings of competence (see Higgins, 1991; Gecas & Shwalbe, 1983). The major determinant of one's level of self-esteem in this context involves the relation between perceptions of competence and the importance of success. The sense of competence, in turn, reflects the discrepancy between one's goal, or ideal, and one's performance. The ideal self is a person's representation of what she/ he wants to be or feels that she/he should be. During childhood the parents' hopes and aspirations usually form the basis for ideal self-representations (Higgins, 1991; see also Harter, 1999).

Early symbolic interactionists such as Cooley (1902) and Mead (1934) have placed more emphasis on social interactions. The primary source of self-esteem has been suggested to be the opinions received from significant others. A similar view is shared by psychodynamic theorists (e.g., Kernberg, 1970) and attachment theorists (e.g., Bowlby, 1982), who highlight the influence of mother-child interactions on development. A child whose needs are satisfied and who experiences parents as totally accepting, emotionally available, and loving will view him/herself as absolutely good and loveable (see Bowlby, 1982). In short, parenting, especially in childhood, is of primary importance.

Empirical findings have supported the theoretical propositions. High self-esteem in children and/or adolescents is related to parental reports of warmth and acceptance (Coopersmith, 1967; Dekovic & Meeus, 1997) and low levels of parent-child conflict (Shek, 1998). In addition, children's and/or adolescents' perceptions of authoritative parenting (Carlson, Uppal, & Prosser, 2000), parental warmth (Paulson, Hill, & Holmbeck, 1991), parental support (Paulson et al., 1991), and parental acceptance (Herz & Gullone, 1999; Ohannessian, Lerner, Lerner, & von Eye, 1998), as well as reports of strong affective ties with parents (Roberts & Bengtson, 1996), are related to high self-esteem. Low self-esteem has been shown to be predicted by children's and/or adolescents' perceptions of their parents as authoritarian (Buri, Louiselle, Misukanis, & Mueller, 1988), as using psychological control and being overly firm (Litovsky & Dusek, 1985), and as being overprotective (Herz & Guillone, 1999), as well as reports of conflict with parents (Slater & Haber, 1984). Moreover adolescents' high self-esteem has been shown to be related to observations of positive mother-adolescent communication (Killeen & Forehand, 1998).

Some, however, have suggested that parenting is affected by contextual factors such as child and parent characteristics (Belsky, Steinberg, & Draper, 1991). Empirical studies have shown that different temperamental characteristics of the child elicit different parenting practices. …

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