Does Self-Esteem Increase When Children Become Adults?

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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  • Bruce

    August 28th, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    I certainly hope that this is the case, because right now I have a daughter who just seems in the throes of self loathing, and I feel really bad because she is getting ready to start college right after Labor Day and I am very concerned for her going off to school feeling this way. She seems to feel like she isn’t going to be as successful or as smart as many of her classmates will be- she was he high school valedictorian! How could she not think that she will be a success? But over the summer she has gotten so progressively down on herself that I have started to get a little worried if you want to know the truth. I think that she is excited about starting this new chapter, but at the same time I think that she is very nervous too. I know she is wondering what it will be like to no longer be a big fish in a small pond as she is going to a state school with more than 20,000 students. I have tried to reassure her that everything will be fine, but somehow those reassurances from dad don’t have the same power that they once did.

  • nate

    August 28th, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    Bruce- I would definitely have a serious talk with your daughter before she goes off to school. Sometimes going off by yourself can lead to even more depression and sadness, so if she is feeling this way while she is still at home it might only get worse if she has those feelings of being alone at school. I just think that it is better the be safe than sorry in this case.

  • Megan

    August 29th, 2012 at 4:03 AM

    I know that for me my self esteem is pretty much what is was when I was a teen. I haven’t noticed a bit of difference one way or the other.

  • carey hanes

    August 29th, 2012 at 2:59 PM

    For most people I think that you will find when they have a real chance to learn who they are and to explore how they want to live their lives, this offers them the concrete opportunity that they have been looking for to discover who they are and how far they are willing to take that. When given the chance to discover the things that they enjoy and that they are good at, this gives pretty much anyone that chance to be good at something that they love that they may have felt has been missing in life. I think that college is a great time to find this and to see just how brightly you can shine maybe if you take a few steps out of your traditional comfort zone into a different place with some different people. Sometimes growing that self esteem and self worth is about going somewhere completetly different and discovering those ways that you can fit in in a myriad of different ways, ways that can make you feel proud of yourself and good about who you are.

  • RENE

    August 29th, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    While increasing self esteem is a great thing for these young people,I just hope the things they attribute this to are healthy too. Things like growing up and going to college are pretty normal and that shouldn’t form the base of the increase in self-esteem. Why? Because millions of others do the same. The base of increase in self-esteem should be something you worked hard for and something that makes you special.

    Such a factor can be something that can never be taken away from you and can thus make put you on stable high self-esteem and not just self-esteem that can take a fall at some point of time.

  • flores

    August 30th, 2012 at 12:56 AM

    “Does Self-Esteem Increase When Children Become Adults?”

    I’d say definitely! There is individuation, less dependency on parents and a general sense of growing up.Couple this with the achievements that young people lap up be it in academics or sports or anything else and that will only help to boost their self esteem.

  • claire m

    August 30th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    Sadly, for many adults they carry the scars from the wounds incurred from childhood far with them into their adult lives. Chances are that this hurt and injury so grievously damaged their self-esteem that they are going to feel this throughtout their lives until they are ready to seek help and go through counseling to help them see that they can rise above all of that imposed upon them when they were children. You can look at some people and see the weight of the previous pain and burden that they are still forced to reckon with on a daily basis. These are people who are so self-deprecating and do not possess the ability to accept compliments and see that they are so much better than what others may have told them all their lives. While I think that given the right set of circumstances there are those who can move past this; but for the most part we are forced to continue to live with all of that hurt and anger from so long ago.

  • jan h

    August 30th, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    @bruce:i clearly understand your concern.but its not something you should worry too much about.just talk to your daughter,tell her she is going to be great,keep her morale high and tell her you are always there if she needs to talk even after she goes off for the new academic year.encourage her to speak with the student counselor if she thinks she can better communicate with a counselor than a parent ans just be supportive in general.all the best to her.

  • Bruce

    August 31st, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    thanks jan h!

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