Childhood Neglect and Later Influences on College Students Self-Esteem Levels 

Updated April 21, 2022

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Childhood Neglect and Later Influences on College Students Self-Esteem Levels  essay

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Creating and caring for another life is arguably one of the biggest accomplishments someone could possibly do. As a caregiver or parent, they have extensive control for another person’s life and they can alter that in any shape or form they want. Caring for children includes a lot of time and effort from whom ever is taking care of the child. On the other hand, there are caregivers all around the world that do not uphold this job as well as they should. This study focuses on the neglect aspect of childhood maltreatment and how it affects an individual’s self-esteem. There are many underlying factors that influence a person’s self-esteem; could it possibly be linked to their childhood experiences?


Childhood maltreatment is defined as a child who has been physically, or sexually abused, or even neglected by their caretaker (Young-Wolff, Kendler, Ericson, & Prescott, 2011). A child who has been exposed to different types of maltreatment can have an everlasting impact that could possibly develop into different varieties of psychological, social maladjustment, and behavioral impairments (Lim & Lee, 2016; Pacheco, Irigaray, Blanca Werlang, & Irani, 2014).

Childhood neglect is one of the many different types of maltreatment (Oshri, Carlson, Kwon, Zeichner, & Wickrama, 2017;). In 2007, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, there were approximately 3.2 million child abuse referrals and 794,000 confirmed victims of childhood maltreatment (Young-Wolff et al., 2011). According to Oshri, neglect is more implicit than other types of child maltreatment, such as child physical and sexual abuse (2017). When a person thinks of neglect, they think of a child who has been physically not taken care of correctly, which is ultimately correct. Neglect refers to when the parent or guardian fails to provide appropriate care to his or her child (Oshri et al., 2017).


According to Hosogi and his colleagues, the correct definition of self-esteem has been debated and defined by various psychologists, but no exact definition has been established (Hosogi, Okada, Fujii, Noguchi, & Watanabe, 2012). Self-esteem is viewed as “a feeling of self-appreciation” (Hosogi et al., 2012). The social environment, such as parents, social values, personal values, and culture, has an enormous impact on one’s self-esteem (Hosogi et al., 2012; Saleem & Mahmood, 2011). Before adolescence, parents or caretakers have the biggest affect on their child’s self-esteem.

As a child gets older their environment continues to grow and what they encounter may could contribute to their self-esteem. Caretakers can contribute to their child’s self-esteem development and maintenance by the degree of their involvement and affection towards their child (Saleem & Mahmood, 2011). A child that has a damaged self-esteem has a higher chance of developing social as well as psychological problems (Hosogi et al., 2012). Overall to a certain degree a caregiver could significantly impact their child’s self-esteem when it is developing.

Over an individual’s lifetime their self-esteem increases and decreases during certain points in their life (Robins & Trzesniewski, 2005). Before adolescence, a child’s self-esteem is relatively high due to their unrealistic self-views (Robins & Trzesniewski, 2005). Overtime, around adolescence, their self-esteem decreases because of their social environment. An example of this is negative feedback, and this can be especially true for girls during this age period of adolescence (Robins & Trzesniewski, 2005). Self-esteem gradually rises during adulthood, peaking around age 60, and then declines once again (Robins & Trzesniewski, 2005).

Incorporating Neglect and Self-Esteem

An effective method for understanding an individual’s past and present is evaluating their self-esteem (Hosogi et al., 2012). Several research studies have shown a link between childhood neglect affecting an individual’s self-esteem. In one study, a majority of the participants reported one or more types of childhood abuse (64%) (Gudjonsson, Sigurdsson, & Tryggvadóttir, 2011). Within the same study it was found that participants who had a low self-esteem, were also the ones who have experienced neglect and physical abuse (Gudjonsson et al., 2011). According to another study, it was found that two types of child neglect, supervisory and physical, showed a link in the development of self-esteem in adolescence’s (Oshri et al., 2017). In this specific study, results showed an inverse relationship. What this means is that as neglect increases, self-esteem levels decreases (Oshri et al., 2017).

Current Study

The purpose of conducting this study is to provide additional research on an association between a neglected childhood and self-esteem levels later in an individual’s life who’s in college. Providing extra research to this topic allows parents to become more aware of psychological problems that could possibly alter their child’s well being. It is hypothesized that children who experience neglected childhoods are more likely to experience a lower self-esteem compared to children who did not experience neglected childhoods.



The sample that was obtained for this study consisted of participants that attended and enrolled at Christopher Newport University at the time. No other outside participants were allowed to participate. Participants involved in the current study were CNU undergraduate, college aged students, whose ages ranged from 18 to 22. The sample included both males and females. These participants were obtained by convenience sampling. Convenience sampling worked best for obtaining participants for this survey because it allowed the survey to be promoted to find participants of interest. After completion of the survey, participants were not compensated.


This type of experiment is designed to find a correlation between two variables being studied. These two variables include: childhood neglect and self-esteem. It is hypothesized that children who experienced a neglected childhood are more likely to experience a lower self-esteem.


Child Neglect. Childhood neglect was assessed by self-reports from participants, measured by using a shorten version of the “The Neglect Scale”. Before the survey began, participants were asked what type of “mother” and/or “father” figure were involved in ones life. The shorten version of this self assessment consisted of nine questions using a 4-point Likert scale. The Likert scale was based off of a 4-point scale consisting of strongly disagree, disagree, agree, and strongly agree. This questionnaire is designed to measure neglect of physical, emotional, supervisory, and cognitive needs.

Self-Esteem. Self-esteem was assessed by self-reports from participants using a shorten version of the ‘Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale’. The shorten version of this scale consisted of nine questions using a 4-point Likert scale. The Likert scale was based off of a 4-point scale consisting of strongly disagree, disagree, agree, and strongly agree. This scale was intended to measure the participant’s current positive and negative feelings about oneself.


A survey was created on Google Forms, from adapting two different types of self-assessment questionnaires. The survey was created to measure the two types of variables being studied: childhood neglect and self-esteem. The first section of the self-questionnaire included if one’s childhood needs was meant by their caretakers. As well as their self-esteem levels now as college adults. The survey was administered through Google Forms. Participants were informed that all collected responses were

Statistical Analysis

For this study excel was used to find a correlation between the two variables being measured: childhood neglect and self-esteem.


Majority of the responses were females (90.9%), with 81.8% identifying as 20 year olds, 9.1% as 21 years old, and 9.1% as 22 years old. Every participant answered (100%) that the father figure in their life was either their biological father or adoptive father. The results were the same for the mother figure in their lives as well: either their biological mother or adoptive mother. Overall, on the section about participant’s childhood they responded with a non-neglected childhood. As seen in figure 1, 100% of participants responded that their caretaker did keep them physically clean. The lowest score on participant’s childhood was on “if their caretaker were proud when I succeeded in something”. The mean for this response was 3.45, meaning majority of the responses agreed with this statement. On the section about participant’s current self-esteem scores were slightly lower compared to participant’s childhoods. As seen in figure 2, responses were either agree or strongly agree regarding the statement “I feel I have a number of good qualities”, the mean for this was 3. This means majority of participants have a high self-esteem. The lowest score on participant’s self-esteem question was, “I wish I had more respect for myself”. The mean for this question was 2.54, which means majority of participants disagreed with this statement.


The purpose of conducting this study was to find more evidence on a neglected childhood and how it could possibly affect self-esteem levels later in adults. Providing more research will allow people to understand the negative outcomes of neglecting children.

The overall finding of this study was the opposite of what was expected. The results of this study did not support nor reject the hypothesis that children who experience neglected childhoods are more likely to experience a lower self-esteem compared to children who did not experience neglected childhoods. Results were found that a person who has not experienced a neglected childhood has a high self-esteem.

Within this study there were several limitations that could have possibly affected the results. The biggest limitation would be the sample size of the current study. The sample size gathered for this study was eleven CNU students, which is not large enough to reflect the entire population. This sample size was extremely low for accurate results. Another limitation about the sample is that it only consisted of Christopher Newport University undergraduate students. A sample consisting of just CNU students is neither as diverse nor unprivileged as it should be for a study. Majority of students at CNU most likely have not lived a life of neglect by their parents, which ultimately will produce inaccurate results as well. Another aspect of the sample, is that it does not precisely represent is the number of females and males within the entire population since CNU is more females than males.

Another limitation of this study could possibly be participant honesty on the self-assessment questionnaire the sample took. As stated in the self-assessment questionnaire, all responses are anonymous, but some people may answer incorrectly about themselves. Some people want to make themselves look better or even worse than they actually are. Participants that took this survey could have lied about their childhood and their current self-esteem levels. This will overall affect the results of this study.

Further research on childhood neglect can provide more insights and knowledge on the negative outcomes that could possibly affect an individual self-esteem level. Conducting more research on neglected childhoods could provide more evidence, not only how it negatively effects self-esteem, but other factors as well. To expand more knowledge on this study and research found, researchers would need to conduct research on different populations and samples. Expanding the sample size increases the results that could provide evidence on the negative outcomes. Providing more research could directly help many individuals, such as parents and late adolescences.


  1. Gudjonsson, G. H., Sigurdsson, J. F., & Tryggvadóttir, H. B. (2011). The relationship of compliance with a background of childhood neglect and physical and sexual abuse. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 22(1), 87. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1080/14789949.2010.524707
  2. Hosogi, M., Okada, A., Fujii, C., Noguchi, K., & Watanabe, K. (2012). Importance and usefulness of evaluating self-esteem in children. BioPsychoSocial Medicine, 6 doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1186/1751-0759-6-9
  3. Lim, Y., & Lee, O. (2017). Relationships between parental maltreatment and adolescents’ school adjustment: Mediating roles of self-esteem and peer attachment. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 26(2), 393-404. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1007/s10826-016-0573-8
  4. Oshri, A., Carlson, M. W., Kwon, J. A., Zeichner, A., Wickrama, K. K., A., & S. (2017). Developmental growth trajectories of self-esteem in adolescence: Associations with child neglect and drug use and abuse in young adulthood.Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 46(1), 151-164.doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1007/s10964-016-0483-5
  5. Pacheco, J. T. B., Irigaray, T. Q., memoriam), B. W. (., Nunes, M. L. T., & Argimon, I. I. d. L. (2014). Childhood maltreatment and psychological adjustment: A systematic review. Psicologia, Reflexão e Crítica, 27(4), 815-824. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1590/1678-7153.201427422
  6. Robins, R. W., & Trzesniewski, K. H. (2005). Self-esteem development across the lifespan. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14(3), 158-162. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00353.x
  7. Saleem, S., & Mahmood, Z. (2011). The development of a self-esteem scale for children in pakistan. Pakistan Journal of Psychological Research, 26(1), 1-21. Retrieved from https://0-search-proquest-com.read.cnu.edu/docview/920830262?accountid=10100
  8. Young-Wolff, K., Kendler, K. S., Ericson, M. L., & Prescott, C. A. (2011). Accounting for the association between childhood maltreatment and alcohol-use disorders in males: A twin study. Psychological Medicine, 41(1), 59-70. doi:http://0-dx.doi.org.read.cnu.edu/10.1017/S0033291710000425
Childhood Neglect and Later Influences on College Students Self-Esteem Levels  essay

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