Adolescent’s self-esteem and adjustment:

A study of the transition from high school to college

Kristen M Croteau

St. Anselm College

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Adolescence is a time of important milestones and rights of passage.  The transitions made by adolescents during these crucial times should be smooth, comfortable and relatively painless.  Many factors in an adolescent’s life can effect these transitions.  External and internal factors can either promote or impede successful progress from one stage of development to the next.  One of these important factors is perceived parenting style and parental behavior.   Perceived parenting style and behavior is an element in an adolescent’s life which is constant and prominent.  Buri (1991) breaks parenting style into three subtypes; authoritarian, authoritative and permissive.  Authoritarian parents expect obedience from children and lack flexibility with rules and punishments.  Authoritative parents are very flexible and offer firm control while at the same time allowing for freedom of expression within limits.  Permissive parents allow excessive freedom and lack boundaries and control (Buri, 1991).  Perception of parent’s attitude and actions can directly and indirectly influence self-esteem as well as confidence and the ability to adjust.  Adolescents mimic, imitate and model what they observe.  In addition, young adults are conditioned by parents to interact or think in certain ways.  Therefore, the adolescent’s perception of parenting style is essential to his or her successful development and transition.  Recent research has addressed many aspects of parenting style and behavior and it’s effect on adolescent’s self-esteem.  Some studies target certain areas of self-esteem such as academic skills or social skills.  Exploring further the connection between parenting and adolescent’s development, numerous studies also examine the major transition of high school to college.

Social and environmental factors are crucial in the development of adolescents.  .  The implicit and explicit messages parents give to adolescents during these interactions define his or her parenting style.  The style that a parent utilizes affects the adolescents’ sense of self.  The following studies show a strong correlation between self-esteem and an adolescents’ perception of parenting style.  Bartle, Anderson & Sabatelli (1989) discovered that self-esteem was directly in relation to parenting style among a group of nineteen year olds.  Felson  and Zielinski (1989) also found a significant correlation between self-esteem and parenting style, in particular parental support. 

Delving further into the relationship between perceived parenting style and adolescent’s self-esteem leads one to the concept of adjustment.  Self-esteem is a crucial part of successful adjustment into social groups, school environments and even the workforce (Jones, Rex & Beach, 2000).  Parenting style has been shown in previous studies to correlate with self-esteem in adolescents (Gecas & Schwalbe, 1986).  Self-esteem has also been shown to correlate with adolescent’s ability to adjustment (Sheehan & Noller, 2002).  Therefore, parenting style may be one possible influence on an adolescent’s adjustment to different situations.

            In addition to parenting style significantly impacting self-esteem and therefore adjustment in adolescence, it also influences a key transition, the one from high school to college.  In addition to a new found independence, adolescence experience a separation from their parents.  This independence and separation involves social and academic responsibility.  Besides, these new experiences inevitably bring with them risks that threaten self-esteem, well-being and physical and mental health.  The following studies have explored the role parenting plays in adolescents’ college transition.  Orrego and Rodriguez (2001) found that communication between parents and children is crucial to adolescent’s adjustment to college.  Holaham, Valentiner and Moos (1994) also found the same result.  The specific area of parenting style labeled support was found to be influential on adolescent’s proper adjustment to college.

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