Life events, self-esteem, and powerlessness among adolescents

Stein, Patricia Reeber
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A descriptive design examined the relationship which exists between the adolescent's report of life events to which he or she has been exposed within the past year, the adolescent's perception of powerlessness, and the adolescent's level of self-esteem. Additionally, the study described the differences in exposure to life events, levels of self-esteem, and perceptions of powerlessness among male and female adolescents of differing socioeconomic status. The study tested propositions from Roy's Adaptation Model of Nursing (Roy, 1984).

Two hundred sixty-one adolescents volunteered to participate in the study. Their mean age was 13.77 years. The sample was drawn from five different sites including: a housing project, two junior high schools, one senior high school, and one recreation center. Coopersmith's (1967) Self-Esteem Inventory measured self-esteem in the study. The Children's Nowicki-Strickland Internal-External Locus of Control Scale measured powerlessness (Nowicki & Strickland, 1973). Coddington's (1981a) Life Event Scale for Adolescents measured significant life events which occurred during the past year. Hollingshead's (1975) Four Factor Index of Social Status measured socioeconomic status.

Feelings of powerlessness and an increased incidence of significant life events predicted low levels of self-esteem. Desirable, undesirable, and family life events in addition to feelings of powerlessness served as better predictors of self-esteem than powerlessness and one total life event score.

Adolescents of lower socioeconomic status experienced lower levels of self-esteem and greater feelings of powerlessness than their counterparts of higher socioeconomic status. There were no differences in feelings of powerlessness or self-esteem among male and female subjects. There was no difference in the experience of life events among male and female subjects of various socioeconomic groups.

As a result of the study, nurses may identify adolescents who are experiencing either a large number of significant life events or negative situations as being at risk for low levels of self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness. Adolescents of lower socioeconomic status may require different approaches, treatment, choices, and encouragement than adolescents of higher socioeconomic classes.

Nursing, Developmental psychology, Self image, Teenagers, Health and environmental sciences, Psychology