There are many topics to choose from when researching adolescence. There are three particular topics that I have done some in depth research of pertaining to adolescence. These topics are as follows: homosexuality, eating disorders, and peer pressure. Upon doing my research I found that although adolescents are faced with many different problems, these three tend to have a major impact on self-esteem. This issue is one of importance to me as I suffered from very poor self-esteem throughout my adolescence and am just now beginning to overcome it. Upon researching these subjects, I came to the conclusion that the majority of my own self-esteem issues stemmed from issues of peer pressure and negative body image. You will see in my discussion of these topics how they can relate to self-esteem issues in adolescence.
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Sexuality in today’s society is viewed mostly as being exclusively heterosexual or homosexual in nature. To adolescence, this can sometimes be confusing as there is much adolescence that has the urge to experiment with a same sex relationship although they have heterosexual leanings. Experimentation throughout adolescence is perfectly normal and in all honesty, expected. Although adult’s homosexuality has been studied to a great extent, there is not a wealth of information regarding adolescent homosexuality. For the typical homosexual, adolescence is the time of “coming out” (Santrock, 2001). This coming out process is one that can put a ton of emotional stress on the adolescent that is considering doing so. There are many people (that because of the stigma that society has attached to being homosexual) will repress their natural feelings and desires and will avoid their sexuality by claiming “straightness” and attractions to the opposite sex to their friends (Santrock, 2001). Another huge concern among homosexual adolescence is parental acceptance. “…studies report that gay and lesbian youth who are rejected by their parents experience an array of emotional, psychosocial, and health-related problems.” (Armesto, Weisman, 2001) There are also many situations where when the parents reject the sexuality of their child, not only does the child face rejection from the parents, but they are also kicked out of their homes and essentially are required to start a new life on their own. This behavior has been found to “…increase risks of delinquent and other maladaptive behaviors.”(Armesto, Weisman, 2001). This occurs because the child was forced to leave prematurely before they were ready to deal with the world on their own. In terms of homosexuality wearing on an adolescence self-esteem, it is easy to see how they can tend to view themselves as “bad”, or “not acceptable” when society has such a negative attitude towards this type of lifestyle to the extent that one’s own friends and parents won’t even accept them for who they are so they are forced to hide it and pretend to be something that they are not.
When most people think of adolescents having eating disorders, they think of a “cheerleader” type girl who either starves herself or throws-up after consuming every meal. Well, not only do eating disorders run the gamut from obesity to anorexia nervosa, they affect both male and female adolescents. “…adolescence is characterized by a marked increase in eating disorder symptoms, and these symptoms may develop into serious eating disorders in adulthood. Cross-sectional surveys find moderate rates of anorexia nervosa (AN) (0.5%-1.0%) and bulimia nervosa (BN) (1%-3%) (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Hsu 1996; Ratsam et al., 1989) but find considerably higher rates that do not meet the full criteria for AN or BN and are categorized in DSM-IV as “eating disorder not otherwise specified”. (Cohen et al., 2001) AN is predominately seen in females during their adolescence and young adulthood. This disease begins with a distorted body image and gradually progresses until the individual is obsessed with the losing weight and no matter what the scale says, they are never satisfied. A question that comes to mind about the negative body image is: where does the “right” body image come from? As a society that is obsessed with being the best and looking the best, is it any wonder that adolescence are turning to starvation and vomiting in order to appear like those celebrities that we hold in such admiration? While AN is primarily a female disorder, there have been cases of males becoming anorexic. Now, like AN, bulimia is also associated with females. It (BN) is “…prevalent among college women. Some estimates indicate that as many as one in two college women binge and purge at least some of the time.”(Santrock, 2001). The biggest difference between these two diseases is that anorexics have control over their eating whereas bulimics do not. Now we will go from losing weight to the opposite end of the spectrum; obesity. “…25 percent of today’s adolescents are obese.” (Santrock, 2001). Yes, there is a genetic factor to obesity, sometimes. There can be an inherited trait for gaining weight, but there are also environmental factors to consider. Many adolescents overeat out of loneliness, boredom, anger, etc. “Eating disorders may represent a way of coping with problems of identity and personal control.”(Herman, Polivy, 2002). There is also the added fact of Americans eating diets high in saturated fat and not getting enough exercise. Adolescents today are far less physically active than their counterparts of even just five years ago. Much of this has to do with video games and computers. Teens will lose themselves in these media forms instead of having friends and playing a game of basketball and going for a jog. Thus, we can once again see the relationship of this issue (eating disorders) on the issue of self-esteem.
The third issue that I would like to discuss is that of peer pressure. “As children move into adolescence, they acquire more social knowledge, and there is considerable individual variation in how much one adolescent knows about what it takes to make friends, to get peers to like him or her, and so forth.”(Santrock, 2001) Peer relations are extremely important to teens, perhaps the most important relationship to them at this point in their lives. Acceptance is an extremely important goal that all adolescents are looking to meet in one way or another. Depending on the group to which on has desired acceptance, there could be different ways to go about getting into these groups. For instance, to be a part of the “jock group”, usually all one needs is strong athletic ability, but for less obvious groups such as social groups there may be different criteria for attaining acceptance. This is where peer pressure can come into play. For instance, in the movie “A Walk to Remember” in order for one teen to gain acceptance into the group of popular kids, he was pressured into jumping into a quarry from a significant height. He did this willingly after being guaranteed acceptance into the group, he also was severely injured. Not all acceptance criteria are as sever as this. There are some high schools that have “secret” sororities where acceptance is completing “Hell Week” which consists of no make-up, same clothes everyday, etc. for an entire week. Perhaps some groups would require presence at an unsupervised party where there would be drinking, drugs, etc. in order to become “one of them”.
“A key peer factor that has been linked with antisocial and risk- taking behavior in adolescence and early adulthood is adolescent involvement with deviant peers. Strong evidence exists to suggest that adolescents who socialize and form friendships with deviant peers are at increased risk of developing a wide range of psychosocial adjustment problems, including conduct problems, substance use, criminal offending, school failure, teenage pregnancy, and the formation of intimate relationships with deviant partners.”(Fergusson, et al., 1999)
To tie everything together that was discussed, not only is growing up hard enough to do, but when the pressures of sexuality and social/parental acceptance, body image, and being accepted by peer groups comes into play, the awkwardness of being an adolescent coupled with self-esteem issues makes for a very tumultuous time.
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