The Influence of Peer and Parent Relationships on Adolescents' SelfEsteem

The study was conducted to find out how parental relationship with their adolecent children and adolescent-peer relationship affect the self-esteem of adolescents. The study was drawn on a sample of 100 adolescent students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. The results did indicate contrary to expectation, a negative relationship between adolescent-peer relationship and their self-esteem. Surprisingly, no link was found between parent-adolescent relationship and the self-esteem of the adolescents. The implications of the study are discussed. Keywords: Parent-adolescent relationship, Peer relationship, Self-esteem, Adolescents.

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Publication: Ife Psychologia
Author: Nyarko, Kingsley
Date published: September 1, 2012

The attachment theory (Bowlby, 1972) explains the strong nexus between the child, and their parents, especially the mother. On the other hand, Erikson (1968) has indicated in his psychosocial theory, the desire of adolescents to decouple themselves from the "umbilical cord" of their parents. It could be assumed therefore that children's relationship with their parents will have a significant influence on peer relationships. That is the healthier the relationship between adolescents and their parents, the healthier will their relationship with their peers be. Thus attachment to parents and friends will be positively correlated. Also, it could be hypothetized, based on Erikson's theory that attachment to peers would have a more positive influence on emotional adjustment in the context of positive family relationships. But, Berndt (1979) has observed that family and peers are independent social contexts, and parental and peer support would not be linked and would represent separate effects on adolescent adjustment. Berndt (1979) observation is in line with Erikson's psychosocial theory.

According to (Adams & Gullotta, 1989), the high prevalence of emotional problems during adolescence can have important implications for further social adaptation. This observation thus calls for the evaluations of the effects of the social contexts around the adolescent child, and their consequences on their emotional development. In relation to the emotional development of adolescents, important questions to be addressed are how their relationships with their parents and peers contribute in improving or undermining their emotional development (e.g., their selfesteem).

Emotional development during adolescence involves establishing a realistic and coherent sense of identity in the context of relating to others and learning to cope with stress and manage emotions (Santrock, 2001). Adolescence is the first time, however, when individuals have the cognitive capacity to consciously sort through who they are and what makes them unique.

Identity comprises two concepts; first is self-concept: the set of beliefs one has about oneself. This includes beliefs about one's attributes (e.g., cute, intelligent), roles and goals (e.g., occupation one wants to have when grown), and interests, values, and beliefs (e.g., religious). The second component of identity is self-esteem, which involves evaluating how one feels about one's self-concept. In other words, selfesteem deals with the evaluations of one's self in terms of their abilities, capabilities, strengths, among others. It develops uniquely for each adolescent, and there are many different trajectories of self-esteem possible over the course of adolescence (Zimmerman, Copeland, Shope, & Dielman, 1997). Thus, self-esteem, whether high or low, may remain relatively stable during adolescence or may steadily improve or worsen. The adolescent who is experiencing their parent's divorce is likely to have their self-esteem worsen. This is because certain problems stemming from parental divorce may be mediated via a lowered self-esteem (Parish & Wigle, 1985).

In a study conducted by Palosaari and Aro (1995), low self-esteem at the age of 16 was more common among girls from divorced families. Boys from divorced and non- divorced families did not differ from each other. The prevalence of depression was highest among persons from divorced families who had reported low self-esteem at the age of 16 and who in young adulthood lacked an intimate relationship. An intimate relationship was found to protect young adults with the risk factor of earlier self-esteem from depression irrespective of family background. The pattern was similar among both sexes. Among girls, there was also an indirect association between parental divorce and depression, with girls from divorced families reporting more frequently low self-esteem in adolescence.

Factors such as the development of adolescents' cognitive skills, their physical changes, among others influence their identity development and self-esteem. For example, adolescents developing cognitive skills enable them to make abstract generalizations about the self (Keating, 1990). The physical changes they are experiencing can strongly influence, either positively or negatively, their global selfesteem. This is particularly true in early adolescence when physical appearance tops the list of factors that determine global selfesteem, especially for girls (Harter, 1990a). Comments by others, particularly parents and peers, reflect appraisals of the individual that some adolescents may incorporate as part of their identity and feelings about themselves (Robinson, 1995).

Peer groups serve a number of useful and salient functions throughout adolescence, providing a temporary reference point for a developing sense of identity. Through identification with peers, adolescents begin to develop moral judgment and values (Bishop & Inderbitzen, 1995) and to define how they differ from their parents (Micucci, 1998). Being accepted by peers has important implications for adjustment both during adolescence and into adulthood. For example, one study, found out that fifth graders who were able to make at least one good friend were found to have higher feelings of self- worth at age 30 when compared to those who had been without friends (Bagwell, Newcomb, & Bukowski, 1998). Positive peer relations during adolescence have been associated with positive psychosocial adjustment. For example, those who are accepted by their peers and have mutual friendships have been found to have better self-images during adolescence and to perform better in school (Hansen, Giacoletti, & Nangle, 1995; Savin-Williams & Berndt, 1990). On the flip side, social isolation among-peer rejected adolescents have been connected to a variety of negative behaviors, such as delinquency (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990). Furthermore, adults who had interpersonal problems during adolescence appear to be at much greater risk for psychosocial difficulties during adulthood (Hansen et al., 1995).

Although, the influence that parents have over their adolescent children wanes as the latter struggles to attain independence from the former, the role that parents do play in helping them to stay focused cannot be downplayed. It appears that parents who are warm and involved in their children's' wellbeing, provide firm guidelines and limits, have appropriate developmental expectations, and encourage the adolescent to develop their own beliefs tend to be most effective. These parents tend to use reasoning and persuasion, explain rules, discuss issues, and listen respectfully. Adolescents who come from homes with this style of parenting tend to perform well in school, report less depression and anxiety, score higher in measures of self-reliance and self-esteem, and be less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors and drug abuse (Carlson, Uppal, & Prosser, 2000; Dornbusch, Ritter, Liederman, & Fraleigh., 1987; Steinberg, 2001).

During adolescence, parent- adolescent conflict tends to soar, particularly between adolescent girls and their mothers. This conflict seems to be a necessary part of gaining independence from parents whilst learning new ways of staying connected to them (Steinberg, 2001). As a result of the growing conflicts, it is assumed that the self-esteem of these adolescents will be affected negatively, thus having a lowered self-esteem. It is also assumed that because the adolescents increasingly align themselves with their peers due to the conflicts with the parents, they are likely to up their self-esteem. Based on the above premise it was hypothesized that 1) there will be a significant negative correlation between parent-adolescent relationship and the self-esteem of their adolescent children, 2) there will be a significant positive relationship between adolescent-peer relation and their self-esteem.



The subjects for the present study were 100 adolescents randomly selected from some selected Senior High Schools in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. Out of this number, 56% lived in intact homes and, 44% represented adolescents from other family arrangements. 64% of the subjects were males whilst 34% were females. The ages of the participants were between 15 and 18.


The data for the study was collected in Accra, Ghana. The participants of the study were adolescents drawn from some selected Senior high Schools. After seeking the consent of their head masters, the aim and rationale of the study were explain to them through their teachers after which they filled out the questionnaires. They were assured of anonymity and the confidentiality of their responses. To make sure that the students filled out the questionnaires on their own, they were motivated to do so within a stipulated time of one hour in the same classroom.


The instrument used in the conduct of the study was a questionnaire. It asked for specific factual information about the selfesteem, relationship with peers and parents of the respondents. The demographic variables that were assembled for this present study were age, gender, grade, and family structure.

Rotated Three Factor Structure of the Revised Class Play (Masten et al, 1985)

To measure the adolescent's relationships with their peers, the revised class play method of peer assessment was modified and used. The Revised Class Play (RCP) comprises 30 roles, 15 positive and 15 negative. It has three major subcomponents namely; Sociability- Leadership, Aggressive- Disruptive, Sensitivity-Isolated. Some of the items on the original scale are: "I have many friends", "my feelings get hurt easily", "I am often left out". Its content represents an important departure from the original Lambert- Bower instrument. The alpha reliability coefficients of the three scores were as follows: .95 and .93 for the Positive Scale; .93 and .90 for Disruptive; and .85 and .81 for isolated.

Supportive Parenting (Simons, et ah, 1 992)

The Supportive Parenting Scale was used to find out how the adolescent relates with their parents. Supportive parents show concern about their child's feelings, take an interest in their daily activities, manifest love and acceptance, encourage appropriate behavior, help with problems, and reinforce accomplishments. Measures based on parent self-report, child report, and observational data were used as indicators of this construct. The self-report measure consisted of a nine-item Supportive Parenting Scale that focuses on the various components of supportive parenting (e.g., concern, assistance, communication, etc.). Some of the items of the scale are: "I really trust my seventh grader", "I experience strong feelings of love for him or her". Coefficient alpha was .81 for fathers and .78 for mothers. In the present study, these same nine items were reworded so that the adolescent could report on the behavior of their parents. Coefficient alpha was .87 and .83 for child report of their parents. Examples of some of the reworded items are: "my parents really trust me", "I feel that my parents really love me". These items were based on a five-point Likert Scale ranging from 1= never to 5= always.

Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1965)

The scale is a ten item Likert scale with items answered on a four point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The scoring for some items need to be reversed so that in each case the scores go from less to more self-esteem. The original sample for which the scale was developed consisted of 5,024 High School Juniors and seniors from 10 randomly selected schools in New York State. Below are the items on the scale: On the whole, I am satisfied with myself; *At times, I think I am no good at all; I feel that I have a number of good qualities; I am able to do things as well as most other people; *I feel I do not have much to be proud of; *I certainly feel useless at times; I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others; *I wish I could have more respect for myself; *A11 in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure; I take a positive attitude toward myself. The items with an asterisk are reverse scored.

Data Analysis

The hypotheses were analyzed by using bivariate correlation. It was preferred to the other statistical methods because I sought to establish the relationships among the variables.


After the analysis of the data, it was discovered that the hypothesis that there will be a negative relationship between parent- adolescent relationship and the selfesteem of the adolescents was not supported (table 2). The result indicated a non- significant relationship between parent- adolescent relationship and the adolescents' self-esteem (r= -0.096, P>0.05). Surprisingly, the second hypothesis which stated that there will be a positive relationship between adolescent-peer relationship and their self-esteem was also not supported (table 2). Although there was a significant relationship between the variables, the direction was the reverse, negative (r= -.231, p<0.05). Based on the results, both hypotheses are rejected.


The findings of the study revealed interesting results; none of the hypothesis was supported. The first hypothesis that stated that there will be an indirect relationship between parent- adolescent relationship and the self-esteem of the adolescent students was not supported. In fact the correlation coefficient is very weak. This result is somewhat surprising considering the fact that adolescents at this stage in their development seek emancipation from their parents, which in most cases results in conflicts (Steinberg, 2001). The presence of conflict at any point in the parent- adolescent relationship may influence the behavior and development of the adolescents. For example, family conflicts may lead the adolescent to have negative thoughts about themselves, and can even culminate in their thoughts about suicide (Shagle & Barber, 1993). Again, conflict is associated with externalizing problems (e.g., aggression) among adolescents (Mason, Cauce, Gonzales, Hiraga & Grove, 1994).

Among adolescent girls, the experience of menarche is connected to increased conflict, more especially in the motherdaughter dyad, and as a consequence less positive emotions and more negative ones characterize adolescent-parent exchanges (Holmbeck & Hill, 1991; Steinberg, 1987). Thus, conflicts in the parent- adolescent relationship result in problems in adolescent development (Rubenstein & Feldman, 1993). These conflicts can also lead to adjustment problems in parents. In one study, 40 percent of parents of adolescent children reported two or more of the following difficulties during a child's transition to adolescence: lowered selfesteem, decreased life satisfaction, increased depression, increased anxiety, and more frequent negative thoughts about middle age (Steinberg, 2001). Thus it was expected that the resultant conflicts, should lead to a lowering self-esteem of the adolescents. This finding thus needs further interrogation.

As already indicated, the second hypothesis that stated that there will be a positive and significant relationship between adolescent-peer relationship and their self-esteem was not supported. This finding, though surprising, is supported by other prior studies in the literature. Although, it was expected that adolescentpeer relationship should be positive and significantly related to their self-esteem, it should also be seen by looking at the kind of relationship that can exist among adolescents. In a study conducted by Khurshid and Rehman (2006), it was found that adolescents having low self-esteem had experienced higher stressors in peer relations as compared to those having experienced high self-esteem, and those belonging to lower socio-economic class had more problems with their self-esteem and faced more peer stressors as juxtaposed to those belonging to middle socio-economic class.

The result of the study could mean that the students are not able to establish and maintain long-term relationship with their peers. They might be lacking selfconfidence, and as a consequence face more problems with their peers. Their low self-esteem appears to create many complexes in their personality, thus their inability to keep healthy relationship with their peers.

Based on the finding from the first hypothesis, I suggest that teachers and educators should educate parents and imbibe in them the need to promote positive attitudes, values, and mutual respect in the home to foster a conducive home environment in order to cash in on the gains of these characteristics on the positive development (self-esteem) of their adolescent children. Again the provision of the right type of parenting style (authoritative parenting) could help in providing a positive relation between parents and their adolescent children.

In relation to the second hypothesis which revealed a negative relationship between peer relationship and adolescent self-esteem, I suggest that teachers as well as parents promote and enhance prosocial skills in the youths. These skills when imbibed in the adolescents will help them to develop positive relations with their children. When children are exposed to bad manners at home, it is most likely that they will exhibit them at school which might contribute to them having psychosocial, emotional, and academic difficulties at school.

I also suggest that the interpretation of the study should be done with circumspection. The sample was taken from one out of the ten regions in the country which might not be truly and genuinely representative of the entire Ghanaian population of adolescents.

I recommend a replication of the study in other parts of the country to verify the findings that have emanated from the study by using a larger sample, and also control for any confounding variable, especially on the relationship between peer relationship and adolescents' self-esteem.

In conclusion, the study has shed more light on the influence of parent-adolescent relation and peer relationship on adolescents' self-esteem. We now, based on the results; know that there is an indirect link between peer relationship and the selfesteem of adolescents which is an important discovery.


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Author affiliation:

Kingsley Nyarko

University of Ghana, Psychology Department

P.O. Box LG 84, Legon

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