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Poor Self Esteem & Reckless Behavior in Teens

by Stephen Maughan, studioD

There are many reasons why a teenager might have low self-esteem such as doing poorly at school, problems with friends or a changing body image. Having low self-esteem can lead to a range of reckless and antisocial behaviors including drinking and abusing alcohol, eating disorders, aggression, joining gangs and cutting class.


According to an article by M. Brent Donnellan, et al. published in the Psychological Science journal in 2005, there is a strong link between low self-esteem and aggressive behavior as well as thoughts of aggression in teenagers. The authors argue that teenagers with low self-esteem may act aggressively to feel superior to others and boost feelings of worth. Teens with low self-esteem are at a higher risk of joining gangs and committing delinquent acts.

Substance Abuse

Teens with low self-esteem are more likely to drink, notes a study published in The Journal of Youth and Adolescence in 1997. Teenage boys in particular are more likely to abuse alcohol as a way of coping with low self-esteem. Teenagers who suffer from low self-esteem are also more likely to engage in reckless behavior such as taking drugs or having unprotected sex.

Eating Disorders

Teenagers with low self-esteem may have a distorted body image and try to control their weight with a reckless and unhealthy attitude to food, according to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Although it is more common for teenage girls, boys can also have problems with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia. Low self-esteem along with noticeable weight loss or weight gain can be signs of an emotional health problem.

School Problems

Low self-esteem in teenagers is closely linked to school absence, as teens with low self-esteem are more likely to skip classes or to join in with others who are also skipping school. Teenagers with low self-esteem are also more likely not to take school study seriously, have poorer grades and also might engage in more disruptive behavior at school than their peers with higher self-esteem, notes Laura Berk, author of "Child Development."

About the Author

Stephen Maughan is a journalist based in Sussex, England. He has written for a variety of lifestyle and family magazines, including "Readers' Digest," "Playground," "Fine Books," "Dog's Today" and "Modern Mum." Maughan holds a postgraduate certificate in journalism from the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

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