While researching the blogpost you are about to read, I went down 9 different rabbit holes and read over 18 articles. I pulled information and made connections between numerous fields of study. I learned how to follow my own curiosity.
And through this process of research and writing, I proved to myself the truth of what I’m about to say to you – that research is an incredible tool for building self-esteem. And that everyone, especially young people, will benefit from having this self-esteem tool in their toolkit.
What is self-esteem?
Self-esteem is a person’s subjective sense of worth – what they believe about themselves and about how they show up in the world. In essence, it’s how someone feels about themselves.
Our self-esteem is closely linked to feelings of self-confidence and self-respect – both of which are critical pieces to mental wellbeing and action.
Why is it important for young people?
For most adolescents, self-esteem is at its lowest between the ages of 10-18. This is because young people at this age start to compare themselves with their peers which can increase feelings of incompetence. They become aware of the growing expectations adults have of them and begin to harbor a fear of disappointing others.
Because adolescence is such a turbulent time, building young people’s self-esteem during this life period is highly important.
One of the biggest reasons for building healthy self-esteem is to encourage a growth mindset in adolescents. People with a growth mindset learn and develop because they see their abilities as fluid and capable of growth. They are willing to take on new challenges and accept failure as a part of learning because they believe in themselves and want their skills to grow.
But people with low self-esteem over-identify with their abilities and see these as fixed. This means failure becomes a statement on their innate worth as a person. Challenges become things to run from out of fear they will prove that the person is inherently incompetent. This rigid mindset ends up limiting growth and learning.
How does research build self-esteem?
Three major components of a healthy self-esteem are:
Let’s look at how research builds and supports each one of these feelings that are key to a healthy self-esteem – and why research can be a powerful tool for young people.
1. Research rewards curiosity for curiosity’s sake (Self-confidence)
Curiosity is not something you create or generate. It is an innate response to new information. Every person has curiosity, but we are not always in situations that activate it. That’s where research comes in.
Research is a great way to activate curiosity. The research process requires the researcher to ask questions and follow their own curiosity. Because research is not predetermined, young people conducting research must learn how to pay attention to the innate pings their curiosity makes. This shows them which path of information to take next so they can reach a conclusion. Research creates an expanding web of learning that’s guided by curiosity.
Such self-directed learning improves a young person’s self-confidence. When they start to see how their innate curiosity leads them and learn that they can trust their own process of discovery, it helps them believe in themselves. The more curiosity is activated, the more young people can see themselves. They start to pay attention to what interests them, and this amount of trust and self-awareness heightens self-confidence.
2. Research teaches discernment (Security)
We live in a world where misinformation is rampant. With the proliferation of news and information shared on personal social media accounts, it is very easy to conflate opinion with fact.
This makes it imperative for young people to learn how to discern between information based in fact and information based in bias.
Research is great at building discernment because it teaches how to distinguish between low-quality and high-quality information. The more young people research, the more they learn what sources of information can be trusted to provide fact over opinion. And the more they develop skills of analysis that red flag false information.
This ability increases a sense of security. Being able to question information and analyze it allows a young person to determine who and what can be relied upon. Research helps them build the skills to lay a solid foundation from which they can perceive and process the world. When we are able to trust our own judgement, we gain a sense of security.
3. Research encourages letting go of the plan (Identity)
A huge part of research is meandering. Like Alice in Wonderland, a researcher falls down countless rabbit holes, finding worlds totally unimagined at the start of the journey. To research well, a researcher must be willing to fall down the rabbit hole.
This willingness to let go of the plan is a key to growth and change. Learning this through the research process can teach young people how to let go in other areas of life – particularly when it comes to identity.
Identity is one of the biggest concerns for adolescents. And that makes sense – at this period of life, it is important for young people to develop a sense of who they are and how they fit into the world.
But part of understanding identity is letting go of certain ideas of ourselves. Our identity is not a fixed thing – it is fleshed out and informed by our ever-changing experiences, lessons, and environments as we grow.
By learning to let go within the research process, young people simultaneously build the ability to accept change. They learn how to let go of old identities and assimilate new ones. This acceptance and skill of letting go is one of the major elements of building a healthy sense of identity.
In conclusion, research is a very powerful practice for young people. Not only is it an inherent part of education and a crucial skill for any field, it also is an incredible self-esteem builder that can help young people feel that they have a voice and an important place in this world.
If you are looking for research opportunities for your young person, join us! Our NJIN programs teach middle and high schoolers how to follow their curiosity while guiding them through the in’s and out’s of academic research and fieldwork.
We would love to help your young person learn how to benefit from the research process!