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Low Self-Esteem


As noted in another article on this website, "Data-based Discussion on Education and Children in Japan 3" by Haruo Kimura, Japanese children are said to have low self-esteem (feelings of self-respect and pride). This is alarming because the future of Japan is at stake if children lack self-esteem and are not able to fully bring out their abilities. It is thought that campaigns to heighten the self-esteem of children in the fields of day care and early childhood education are a result of this finding of low self-esteem.

Certainly, low self-esteem is a problem, but the self-esteem of children in Japan is also low when compared to the rest of the world. Could there be any adverse effects as a result?

Children develop under the influence of biological factors (genes) and environmental factors. They learn language and socio-cultural customs from the adults around them. For example, the social and cultural behavior that is said to be a national character is passed on to later generations as children consider adults surrounding them as their role models.

So, is the self-esteem of children influenced by adults around them? There are some interesting research results on this question. Schmitt and Allik have applied the widely recognized Rosenberg self-esteem scale in research to evaluate and compare the self-esteem of adults in 53 countries *. Compared with other countries, Japan has a number of unfavorable distinctions in such categories as the gender gap, but in the areas of children's scholastic ability and child health, it has been a regular among the highly ranked countries. Although its momentum in the fields of economics and scientific research has declined a bit, its position remains quite high. So what can we say about the self-esteem of Japanese adults who live in such a society?

According to the survey by Schmitt and Allik, adults in Japan scored the lowest on feelings of self-esteem. Of the five countries reporting the lowest figures, with the exception of Czech Republic, four were located in Asia: Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Bangladesh. It is hard to think of what these countries have in common. Certainly, not economic development or religion. In any case, whatever the reason, Japanese children grow up surrounded by adults who have the lowest self-esteem in the world.

In childcare and education, many efforts are being made to raise and reinforce the self-esteem of children, but we rarely hear about the necessity of raising self-esteem in adults. Regarding an issue like the above-mentioned gender gap, depending on the field, I think it is still possible to make changes and improvements through comparison with conditions in other countries, but most adults in Japan believe that conditions in Japan are good when compared with other countries.

I imagine that the popular character Chico-chan 1 would probably scold us in her own way. "Look who's talking! Laying aside their low self-esteem, there are so many adults who are talking about how children have low self-esteem and how they have to raise the children's self-esteem!"

In any case, I don't think that Child Research Net can simply remain a bystander when the self-esteem of children in Japan is the lowest in the world. With so many years of life ahead of them, I think it is natural to hope at the very least that children should enjoy higher self-esteem than adults.

Hence, I received a Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) ** and conducted research comparing the feelings of self-esteem among children (5 and 7 years of age) in Japan and three countries in Asia. When evaluating the self-esteem of adults, survey participants were asked to answer a list of questions. In the case of children, however, two methods were used together: one in which parents answered questions on their child's self-esteem and the Hartier Pictorial Scale with easy-to-understand pictures that children could use to answer themselves. In this way, when evaluating the self-esteem of children, the survey method took into consideration both the subjective view of the parents and the language ability of the child.

According to the survey, the results of both evaluation by parents and self-evaluation by the children (5 and 7 years of age) were the lowest ***, not in Japan, but in another country. Japan reported the second lowest self-esteem, but at least, the self-esteem reported by children was not as low as the results reported in the survey of Japanese adults. Furthermore, in all the countries surveyed, compared to 5-year old children, the 7-year old group had lower self-esteem. Self-esteem declines upon advancing to elementary school.

Japanese adults have low self-esteem, but as stated previously, Japanese society, which is made up of adults with such low self-esteem, is hardly one that pales in comparison with the rest of the world when it comes to the economy, science, safety and many other fields. Furthermore, without mentioning the country specifically, let me point out that the country where self-esteem among children is lower than in Japan is a country in Asia that is flourishing socially, economically and culturally.

It is necessary to continue working toward raising excessively low self-esteem, but we should not be bound by this psychological measure that is called self-esteem.

  • 1 A five-year-old half-CG character from a popular Japanese quiz TV program aired on NHK, a national broadcasting organization. She scolds adults when they can't give the right answer by saying, "Bōtto ikiten ja nēyo! (Don't sleep through life!)."

  • * Schmitt, D.P., & Allik, J.(2005). Simultaneous administration of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale in 53 nations: exploring the universal and culture-specific features of global self-esteem. J Pers Soc Psychol. 89:623-642.
  • ** 2014-2017 JSPS Grants-in-Aid for Scientific Research (B) Comparison of self-esteem of children in Asian countries and factors affecting its development. Principal Investigator: Yoichi Sakakihara.
  • *** Sakakihara, Y., et al. (2017) International Comparison of Self-esteem of Children in Asian Countries (Jap) Child Science, 14:39-43, 2017.

sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.
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