Parental Behavior and Adolescent Self-Esteem in Clinical and Nonclinical Samples

By Nielsen, David M.; Metha, Arlene | Adolescence, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Parental Behavior and Adolescent Self-Esteem in Clinical and Nonclinical Samples


Nielsen, David M., Metha, Arlene, Adolescence


Self-esteem and self-acceptance have long been viewed as requisites for healthy personal development. The prominent role played by self-esteem in defining human nature can be found in most theories of personality (e.g., Adler, 1958; Maslow, 1968; Rogers, 1951).

Self-Esteem: The Construct

Most definitions of self-esteem share a common theme of self-evaluation, and indeed many researchers define self-esteem as evaluative beliefs about one's self (Gecas, 1971; 1972; Kawash, Kerr, & Clewes, 1985; Openshaw, Thomas, & Rollins, 1981). One of the frequently cited definitions of self-esteem is by Rosenberg (1965) who states: "When we speak of high self-esteem . . . we . . . simply mean that the individual respects himself, considers himself worthy . . . low self-esteem, on the other hand implies self-rejection, self-dissatisfaction, self-contempt".

Self-esteem is frequently measured in a way that presumes unidimensionality (Coopersmith, 1967; Growe, 1980; Graybill, 1978; Kawash et al., 1985; Litovsky & Dusek, 1985; Rosenberg, 1965). Some, however, have suggested that self-esteem may be multidimensional (e.g. Gecas, 1971, 1972; Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986; Openshaw, Thomas, & Rollins, 1981; Savin-Williams & Demo, 1983). For example, in a study of parental behaviors and adolescent self-esteem, Gecas (1971, 1972) identified two factors of self-esteem, "power" and "worth." In similar work, Openshaw, Thomas, & Rollins, (1981, 1984) identified four dimensions of self-esteem: "positive self-esteem," "self-esteem power," "self-derogation," and "self-esteem worth." In the current study, self-esteem is defined as the multidimensional, evaluative dimension of the self-concept. Given multiple dimensions of self-esteem, the question arises: What is the relationship between various parental behaviors and each dimension of self-esteem? Although some have attempted to answer this question (cf. Gecas, 1971, 1972; Openshaw et al., 1984), these studies lack common procedures, thereby leaving important questions of validity and generalizability unanswered.

Parental Behaviors and Self-Esteem

Several parental characteristics have been associated with adolescent self-esteem. Most researchers agree that parental affection, or support, is positively related to adolescent self-esteem (Gecas, 1971, 1972; Growe, 1980; Graybill, 1978; Hoelter & Harper, 1987; Holmbeck & Hill, 1986; Kawash et al., 1985; Litovsky & Dusek, 1985; Peterson, Southworth, & Peters, 1983). Likewise, a parenting style that avoids the use of guilt, anxiety, and love withdrawal for use in controlling behavior appears to have a positive relationship with self-esteem in children and adolescents (Graybill, 1987; Kawash et al., 1985; Litovsky & Dusek, 1985). It is believed that such behaviors instill in children a sense of their inherent value (Openshaw et al., 1984).

A somewhat more ambiguous picture emerges regarding parental discipline and its relationship with self-esteem. In theory, moderate amounts of discipline should promote self-esteem (Baumrind, 1968; Coopersmith, 1967; EIder, 1963), yet empirical support for this hypothesis is limited. Some studies indicate that mild forms of punishment are associated with high self-esteem in children (Growe, 1980; Peterson et al., 1983). Others argue that excessive parental control (discipline) is linked to low self-esteem (Litovsky & Dusek, 1986; Openshaw et al., 1984). Still others have failed to find any relationship between parental control and adolescent self-esteem (i.e., Gecas, 1971, 1972; Graybill, 1978). It appears that whether discipline is related to adolescent self-esteem depends upon how one defines and measures both discipline and self-esteem.

One important limitation in the literature relating parental behaviors and adolescent self-esteem is that investigators typically have studied "normal" adolescents. Unfortunately, it is difficult to generalize the results from previous studies to populations of clinical adolescents seen by most clinicians. …

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