Journal of Adolescence

Helping Strangers May Raise Teens’ Self-Esteem

Posted on February 5, 2018

A recently published study in the Journal of Adolescence suggests that altruistic behaviors may raise teens’ feelings of self-worth. However, not all helping behaviors are the same. The researchers found that adolescents who assisted strangers reported higher self-esteem one year later.

“Surprisingly, teens who helped friends and family members did not report the same emotional change,” says Dr. Laura Padilla-Walker, one of the study’s researchers.

The study ran between 2008 and 2011, included 681 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 14, and examined how helping, sharing, and comforting others affected teens’ self-confidence. Statements like “I help people I don’t know, even if it’s not easy for me,” and “I voluntarily help my neighbors,” helped researchers assess the various ways teens support others, while statements like, “I am satisfied with myself,” and “I feel useless at times,” helped the researchers evaluate the teens’ self-esteem.

Ultimately, Padilla-Walker says the study findings suggest there’s something unique about leaving one’s comfort zone to support someone you do not know. “Helping a stranger is more challenging than assisting a friend, and when teens take this risk, they feel more competent,” she says.

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