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Kentucky Department for Public Health

Title V Fact Sheet

Self Esteem in Youth
Self-esteem is defined as how one feels about oneself.1 It may be either high or low depending upon a personal assessment of self. Healthy self-esteem is essential for success in every area of life. It is one of the most dynamic variables in youth development.
Size of the Problem:

It has been observed that children experience a decline in self esteem during adolescence years which is a critical transition period for them. Girls experience this decline at age 12 whereas in boys the decline generally begins at age 14.2 Youth with high self-esteem consider themselves worthy, and view themselves as equal to others. Those low in self-esteem generally experience self-rejection, self-dissatisfaction, self-contempt, and self-disparagement. Direct estimates of the level of self-esteem in Kentucky youth are not available but there are some indirect indicators that can help us understand this problem in our young population.


Low self-esteem can be a major risk-factor in mental and emotional health problems such as suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, and violence.3 Figure 1 shows frequency of some risk behaviors in Kentucky youth which are significantly greater than youth nationwide. Research shows that body weight affects children's self esteem.4 In addition, it was found that self esteem was an early indicator of mental health.

Data obtained from the National Survey of Children’s Health5 (2007) shows that 10.4% of 6-17 year old children in Kentucky consistently exhibited problematic social behaviors as compared to 8.8% nationwide. The problematic social behaviors include arguing too much, being disobedient, bullying or being cruel to others and being stubborn or irritable. Table 1 shows the prevalence of these behaviors in Kentucky youth in comparison to youth in the United States. These behaviors may be used as proxy indicators of negative self-esteem since they portray disturbed emotional and mental health. It was also found from the NSCH survey that 16.1% children 6-17 years of age repeated one or more grades in Kentucky as compared to only 10.6% throughout the nation.
The maternal and child health stakeholders in Kentucky commented in the community forums that teen pregnancy is an issue due to lack of self esteem in girls.6 Research shows that adolescents who have lower self-esteem report initiating sex earlier and having had risky partners.7
Clinical Impact: A negative self-esteem in adolescence has been associated with depression in both boys and girls and eating disorders in girls.3 It is seen that female adolescents tend to worry more about physical appearance than do males.8 Boys versus girls are more likely to report high self-esteem.9
Disparities: African American adolescents tend to have more positive self-concepts than do their white counterparts.3

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