Self-esteem isn’t a huge problem for Millennials weaned on participation trophies. Say what you want about Generation Y — blame them for the death of golf or the rise of avocado toast if you will — but they do not lack for self-worth and that’s actually a good thing. Though unrealistic self-confidence can be obnoxious, self-esteem generally leads to better mental health and better personal outcomes. That said, pride is not necessarily heritable and parents have every right to be concerned that their less ambitious children may be suffering from low self-esteem.
Fortunately, there’s a psychometric test for that. The Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale was developed in 1965, and diagnoses low self-esteem in children and adolescents with just 10 simple questions. Administer the test at home, and perhaps you’ll detect low self-esteem before it becomes a real issue.
The Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale
Ask your child to answer the following questions with Strongly Disagree (0), Disagree (1), Agree (2), Strongly Agree (3) and then tally up his or her score. Reverse the scoring procedure (Strongly Disagree=3; Strongly Agree=0) for questions 3, 5, 8, 9, and 10. The maximum score is 30, indicating quite healthy self-esteem, and most people score above 20. Lower than 15 indicates low self-esteem.
- I feel that I am a person of worth, at least on an equal plane with others.
- I feel that I have a number of good qualities.
- All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure.
- I am able to do things as well as most other people.
- I feel I do not have much to be proud of.
- I take a positive attitude toward myself.
- On the whole, I am satisfied with myself.
- I wish I could have more respect for myself.
- I certainly feel useless at times.
- At times I think I am no good at all.
My Kid Scored Lower Than 15…Help!
First of all, don’t overreact. This test is meant to be taken under clinical conditions and administered by trained professionals. Your living room is not a clinical condition, and you are not a professional. So if you and your child agree that low self-esteem isn’t an issue, there’s probably nothing to worry about.
But if you administered the test because you suspected a self-esteem problem, a low score may highlight a problem that must be addressed. People with low self-esteem often experience depression and anxiety. They may display aggression, or accept abuse; they may perform poorly in school and avoid challenges for fear of failing. Low self-esteem makes it hard to maintain friendships and romantic relationships, and may lead to your child avoiding many leisure activities.
Long story short: If your kid has low self-esteem it’s worth your attention — and worth trying to fix.
So How Do We Fix It?
When low self-esteem is caused by an underlying psychological problem, such as depression, there are medications and cognitive therapies that can help. But in most cases, low self-esteem can be helped without medical intervention. When your child has a negative self-perception in a certain area, try asking him or her what evidence supports that thinking, and whether others would say it’s true. This can help weed out inaccurate, dysfunctional thoughts that lead to low self-esteem. Your child could also try dispelling those toxic thoughts by putting them in a journal, so they spend less time rattling around his or her head. Grabbing a win or two in an area in which your child is likely to succeed also helps.
But the goal isn’t to turn your kids into overconfident jerks. Self-esteem is a balancing act. “People with a good and healthy self-esteem are able to feel good about themselves for who they are, appreciate their own worth, and take pride in their abilities and accomplishments,” writes psychologist John Grohol, founder of Psych Central. “They also acknowledge that while they’re not perfect and have faults, those faults don’t play an overwhelming or irrationally large role in their lives or their own self-image.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to clarify that several questions on the Rosenberg Self-Esteem scale need to be “reverse scored” in order to obtain a correct score. Fatherly regrets the error.