The self-perception developed in childhood and adolescence can have a significant effect on adult behavior and self-image. There are many factors that can influence self-esteem in boys, for better or for worse. Some of the most common influences on male self-esteem include comparison with traditional male stereotypes, performance in academics and extracurricular activities, the presence or absence of learning disorders, peer relationships, and relationships with male authority figures.
Some experts suggest that a boy's identification with classic male stereotypes can have an affect on self-image. The perception of men as tough, bluff, unemotional, and violent can sometimes cause boys to feel weak or unmanly if they experience feelings of sadness or fear. Self-esteem in boys can also be damaged if they are taunted or made fun of for experiencing natural emotions, or for wanting to take part in non-stereotypical “male” activities, such as learning to bake cookies, or taking part in gymnastics instead of baseball.
For many children and adolescents, one of the primary means of measuring self-worth and personal success comes from performance in academics or extracurricular activities. Students who do poorly in school may begin to feel inadequate, or be concerned that they are not smart. Boys who do well in school or sports can also develop low self-esteem if their work is not recognized or appreciated by parents or authority figures. Some sociologists have also suggested that the surge of interest in female scholastic performance since the late 20th century has been detrimental to self-esteem in boys, if boys believe that their own performance is less important than that of their female classmates.
In addition to performance in school, self-esteem in boys can also be greatly influenced by peer relationships. Boys who are bullied or have difficulty making friends may be more prone to low self-esteem, since they are not receiving positive reinforcement of their personalities by peers. On the other hand, extremely popular boys may feel increased pressured to remain cool in the eyes of their friends, and may ignore self-esteem issues in order to keep up a reputation as a cool kid.
According to some studies, learning disorders such as dyslexia and attention deficit disorder may be far more prevalent in boys than in girls. If a boy has an undiagnosed learning disorder, he may be unable to complete school work or progress at the same level as classmates, while having no idea why he is having trouble. This can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and a severe decrease in self-esteem. With diagnosis and managed treatment, boys with learning disorders can often learn to cope with the scholastic environment, as well as have a safe place to discuss self-image fears relating to the disorder.
Many psychologists and researchers suggest that relationships with male role models and authority figures can have a tremendous impact on self-esteem in boys. If a boy has a healthy male role model, he may pick up a great deal of useful information about how to be a healthy, responsible man. For boys that do not have a good relationship with their father, it may be helpful to find alternative role models who can fill a father-like position, such as sports coaches, teachers, male therapists, or even admirable historical figures.