As a child psychology service, we have spent countless hours working with teenagers and their families to help build and maintain healthy self-esteem. In this article we’ll explore some fascinating statistics on teen self-esteem that will shed light on the challenges facing our youth today.
Adolescence is a time of significant growth and change, and it’s common for teens to struggle with their sense of self-worth. From the impact of social media on self-image to the role of parental support in building confidence, these statistics provide valuable insights into the state of teen self-esteem in our modern world.
So let’s dive into some eye-opening data!
What is Self-Esteem?
Self-esteem is the term we use to describe our opinions and beliefs about ourselves. In other words, our sense of overall personal worth or value. Our self-esteem can affect whether we have the ability to like and value ourselves as a person, identify strengths within ourselves, believe we are good enough and have something to contribute.
It is important to have healthy self-esteem as it plays a strong role in influencing young people’s mental health. Robust self-esteem can help you face challenges, deal with serious problems successfully and manage difficult situations. However, it is not uncommon for individuals to experience low self-esteem issues. The key elements of self-esteem include:
- Feeling of competence
Young people with low self-esteem can feel less confident in their abilities and less certain about their capability to make decisions. The lack of confidence in their abilities can prevent them from trying new things. Establishing relationships and expressing needs may also be difficult for young people with low self-esteem.
There can be a danger to high self-esteem if it doesn’t come with modesty and reflection, though. Teenagers with high self-esteem may sometimes overestimate their abilities and believe they should be successful even if their skills do not support their beliefs. This may lead to them resisting self-improvement, which in turn can lead to difficulties within relationships.
Self-Esteem Statistics (UK and US)
Here are some interesting self-esteem statistics from the UK and the USA.
Teen Self-Esteem Statistics: UK
- 1/3-1/2 of adolescents struggle with low self-esteem in the UK.
- 61% of 10-17-year-old girls in the UK have low self-esteem.
- 52% of young people in the UK said they were satisfied with their health.
- 50% of individuals in the UK feel like they are not part of a community, with no sense of belonging.
- 35% of teens in the UK had stopped eating at some point due to worrying about their body image.
- 37% of adolescents in the UK felt upsent and ashamed of their body image.
Teen Self-Esteem Statistics: USA
- Optimism is a key element of self-esteem. 1 in 3 high school students in the USA experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, an increase of 40% since 2009.
- 4 in 5 teenage girls are unhappy with their body and are afraid of becoming obese.
- 30% of teen boys want to gain weight to appear more ‘muscly’.
The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Body Image
Self-esteem and body image directly influence each other. Teens who don’t like their physical appearance or body weight will be less likely to take good care of themselves or feel good about themselves as a whole. Negative self-image can lead to problems with eating, sleeping, spending time with others or doing things they normally enjoy doing.
Body image in young people can be influenced by many things such as social media, family environment, and the attitudes of peers. Puberty also has a huge influence on young people’s body image. Differences become more pronounced, and teenagers tend to be more likely to compare themselves to their peers and try harder to fit in with everyone else.
Children may show prominent signs that they are focusing too much on their bodies and how they look. This can come in the form of:
- Criticising their body.
- Comparing their bodies with others.
- Staying at home/not taking part in activities because they don’t like how they look.
- Obsessing about weight.
- Not eating/overly eating.
It is normal and okay for teenagers to be self-aware about exercise and their diet. However, do monitor your child’s underlying reasons for any changes they are trying to make. Do they have healthy reasons for their desired changes? Are they showing any extreme behaviours such as significant calorie restriction? It’s important that you discuss any concerns with your doctor.
To What Extent is Poor Self-esteem Associated with Mental Health Problems in Young People?
There is a strong association between low self-esteem and negative mental health in young people. Teens with low self-esteem are at greater risk of engaging in health-compromising behaviours such as substance abuse, early sexual activity, and eating problems.
Children and adolescents with poor self-esteem are also more likely to develop mental health issues such as anxiety and depressive symptoms. One 2006 study found that teenagers with low self-esteem were 1.26 times more likely to develop depression by age 26 than other young people, and 1.6 times more likely to develop anxiety.
Self-esteem in Young Adolescents vs Older Adolescents
A study by Trzesniewski et al., (2003) discovered that self-esteem tends to decline in early adolescence and recover in the middle and later stages of adolescence.
The first drop in self-esteem is in early adolescence (9-13 years) when children and young teens are expected to become increasingly independent and may struggle with this along with the huge changes puberty brings.
The second drop in self-esteem is in late adolescence (18-23 years) when a young person is faced with the daunting reality of the future. A lot of pressure is placed upon teens during this period of their life which can be extremely overwhelming.
Adolescent Self-Esteem and Sexual Activity
Studies suggest that by the age of 18, more than half of all teenagers have had sex. Eighty percent of those teens used some form of contraception.
One Nigerian study found that younger girls with lower self-esteem are more likely to have sex whereas teenage boys with low self-esteem are less likely to be sexually active. Adolescent boys with high self-esteem are nearly 2.5 times more likely to initiate sex but girls and young women with high self-esteem are three times less likely to have sex.
Longitudinal Studies of Self-Esteem in Young People
One study specifically analysed the self-esteem trajectories over four years in twelve to sixteen year olds. Adolescent girls were more likely to fall into the “steadily decreasing” self-esteem group. Boys were more likely to be in the “moderate and rising” self-esteem group. Teens with consistently high or moderate and rising self-esteem reported healthier outcomes in US Grade 10 (UK year 11) compared to the others, such as alcohol use, academic grades and susceptibility to peer pressure.
Another longitudinal study tracked teens and young adults’ self-esteem over fourteen years (age group of 14-30 year olds). Results indicated that self-esteem increases during adolescence and continues to increase more slowly in adulthood. Women and men had similar self-esteem trajectories. Emotionally stable, conscientious and extroverted people had higher self-esteem compared to “unstable”, less conscientious or introverted people. An increase in “sense of mastery” (competence) was the biggest factor accounting for an increase in self-esteem.
Impact of the Pandemic on Self-esteem
According to the Princes Trust Natwest Youth Index, the pandemic contributed to a 13-year low in levels of confidence and happiness in 16-25-year-olds in the UK. Contributing factors were reported to include loss of social interaction, stress and anxiety. Twenty three percent of young people felt they would never recover from the emotional impact of the pandemic.
Self-Esteem in Girls Versus Boys
As we have already touched on a few times, generally, studies consistently show that teen girls are more likely to face issues with their self-esteem in comparison to boys. Traditional gender roles may play a part here. For example, confidence is a classic stereotypical male trait, and not a typical trait in women.
Self-Esteem and Academic Achievement
We might hypothesise that low self-esteem may lead to poor school performance which in turn can lead to more stress. Students may feel like they are not good enough if they underperform in their academic life, which is a core belief that negatively impacts self-esteem. Studies have backed this up. For example, an Iranian study of pre-university students in 2010 found a significant positive relationship between self-esteem and academic achievement in the teenage years.
It is common for teens to struggle with their sense of self-worth during adolescence. Some fascinating international studies reveal that a significant proportion of teenagers struggle with low self-esteem, with young girls being more affected by body image issues.
Poor self-esteem is associated with negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression, and health-compromising behaviors such as substance abuse and early sexual activity.
While self esteem statistics show that self-esteem decreases in early adolescence and recovers in the middle and later stages, a lot of pressure is placed on teenagers in the late adolescent stage, leading to the second drop in self-esteem.
Priya Tamber is currently studying for an MSc in Theory and Practice in Clinical Psychology at the University of Reading. She is working towards becoming a Clinical Psychologist. She is also currently on clinical placement at Everlief with Dr Lucy Russell (Founder of They Are The Future). Priya has a strong interest in exploring mental health in young children and adolescents, especially autism and ADHD.