A new study indicates an alarming number of girls and teens have low self-esteem, which in turn results in destructive behaviors. According to the study's findings, the key to reversing the trend has to do with parents and other adult role-models providing consistent communication, support and encouragement to the girls in their lives.
Self-esteem has become a national crisis in this country. The majority of girls (seven in ten) feel they do not measure up in some way including their looks, performance in school and relationships. Most disturbing is that girls with low self-esteem are engaging in harmful and destructive behavior that can leave a lasting imprint on their lives. These new findings come from Real Girls, Real Pressure: A National Report on the State of Self-Esteem, conducted with girls between eight and 17 and commissioned by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund.
An alarming number of girls are turning to destructive action when feeling insecure, and girls with low self-esteem are three times more likely to participate in dangerous behaviors during these times.
- 75 percent of girls with low self-esteem reported engaging in negative and potentially harmful activities, such as disordered eating, cutting, bullying, smoking or drinking, when feeling badly about themselves -- compared with 25 percent of girls with high self-esteem.
- 61 percent of teen girls with low self-esteem admit to talking badly about themselves. (Compared to 15 percent of girls with high self-esteem.)
- 25 percent of teen girls with low self-esteem resort to injuring themselves on purpose or cutting when feeling badly about themselves. (Compared to 4 percent of girls with high self-esteem.)
- 25 percent of teen girls with low self-esteem practice disordered eating, such as starving themselves, refusing to eat, or over-eating and throwing up, when feeling badly about themselves.(Compared to 7 percent of girls with high self-esteem.)
"Low self-esteem among girls and young women has reached a crisis level," said Dr. Ann Kearney-Cooke, Ph.D., a psychologist and self-esteem expert who collaborated on Real Girls, Real Pressure. "The new report from Dove confirms the importance of healthy self-esteem and the dangerous consequences that can arise when hang-ups about looks, academics and popularity erode a girl's sense of self-worth and self-acceptance."
Girls are also craving better communication with adult figures as they struggle with challenges in their lives. The top wish among girls is for their parents to communicate better with them, including more frequent and more open conversations, as well as discussions about what is happening in her life. However, as girls enter their teenage years there is a significant loss of trust and communication with adults, particularly when they are feeling badly about themselves.
"We cannot underestimate just how vital the words and actions of parents are in fostering positive self-esteem in girls. However, it can be challenging because adolescence is not typically a time when girls are reaching out to their parents and speaking candidly," said self-esteem expert Jess Weiner, a best-selling author and the Global Ambassador for the Dove Self-Esteem Fund. "The good news is that if parents and other role models are willing to create a steady conversation of encouragement, honesty and openness it can definitely help girls gain confidence and reach their full potential."
Jim Leibelt is a 20+ year youth ministry veteran and is the Senior Editor of Publications for HomeWord, including oversight of the "Good Advice Parent Newsletter," Today’s HomeWord daily devotional, and HomeWord’s Culture Brief. Jim is also a presenter for HomeWord's parent seminar, "Building Healthy Morals and Values." Jim joined the HomeWord staff in 1998, and has served over the years in various pastoral ministries, as a youth ministry and parenting seminar speaker, an adjunct youth ministry instructor at Gordon College, a national presenter for Group Magazine Live, and has served on the council of the New England Network of Youth Ministries.