The high school years can be confusing and distressing for many students. Children enter adolescence unsure of their identities and must navigate through the turbulence of hormonal shifts, peer pressures, and their own ideals in order to arrive at their sense of selves. Although autonomy and personal identities often are forged during this time, self-esteem may still be in its infancy. Teens who transition to adulthood with low self-esteem may face challenges assimilating to college life and the pressures surrounding that transition. In contrast, individuals who blossom into adulthood with high self-esteem may have a more positive outlook on life’s stressors.
Understanding factors that facilitate the growth of self-esteem could help clinicians target relevant avenues when working with young adults making the transition from high school to college. To get an idea of the varying factors, Jenny Wagner of Berlin’s Humboldt University recently led a study evaluating 4,532 young adults beginning in their last year of high school. They were assessed four separate times as they made the move from primary to secondary education, and were evaluated based on multiple influences.
Wagner found that in general, levels of self-esteem increased immediately following the transition from high school to college, then rose more rapidly once the students reached an approximate age of 21. She also discovered that students who were in romantic relationships and had strong positive personality traits were more likely to have significant increases in self-esteem compared to unattached students with less-evolved individual identities. “Finally,” Wagner said, “conditions of self-esteem change show time-specific as well as gender-specific relations that should be regarded in upcoming research.” Wagner believes these findings provide evidence of the positive effect of autonomy and personal development on self-esteem and hopes that this information will help guide future studies on self-esteem in young adults.
Wagner, J., Lüdtke, O., Jonkmann, K., Trautwein, U. (2012). Cherish yourself: Longitudinal patterns and conditions of self-esteem change in the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029680
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