Taking part in the arts could help build children’s self-esteem, new study finds

Children who play and listen to music, draw and paint, and read for pleasure tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, according to new findings from Child of the New Century.

What we asked you

When you were 11 years old, we asked you how often you took part in arts activities, such as listening and playing music, drawing, painting and making things, and reading for enjoyment. We also asked you a series of questions used to gauge your self-esteem.

We also asked your teachers for their impressions of your abilities across a range of academic subjects, including the arts.

The researchers took into account a range of background factors that may have affected your self-esteem or your love of the arts, such as gender and ethnicity, how well you got on with your parents, and whether you had any social, emotional or behavioural problems growing up. The researchers also considered information about your parents, including their marital status, education level, employment and mental health, as well as how often they engaged in arts activities with you.

Arts boosts self-esteem

Those of you who participated in arts activities most days tended to have higher levels of self-esteem than those who never took part in arts, or did so less than once a month. Study members who listened to and played music on most days scored, on average, 16 per cent higher on questions related to their self-esteem. Painting, drawing and making things provided a 32 per cent boost, and reading for enjoyment a 22 per cent increase.

Arts is something parents and children can do together

The researchers considered whether the boost to self-esteem could be explained by the fact that arts activities offer children and parents an opportunity to spend time together. Those of you who listened to or played music, or read for pleasure with your parents at least once or twice a week had higher levels of self-esteem than those who spent less time doing these things with your parents. The link between painting, drawing and making things and higher self-esteem was not explained by parents’ involvement.

You don’t have to be artistic to benefit from the arts

Among 11-year-olds who were heavily involved in the arts, the researchers examined whether artistic talent explained the link with higher self-esteem. Those who had been rated by their teachers as having above average ability in music, art or design did not tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, compared to similar children who were rated as less gifted in the arts by their teachers.

The study’s authors suggest that the arts can give young people a sense of accomplishment, help them feel in control of their environment, and build new skills –all of which are helpful for raising self-esteem and self-worth. They also noted that arts have been shown to help foster social identity and social cohesion when done as a group.

The researchers recommended arts programmes as a way to support children’s positive development, and in turn help reduce inequalities as they enter adulthood.

Further information

‘Arts engagement and self-esteem in children: results from a propensity score matching analysis,’ by Hei Wan Mak and Daisy Fancourt was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in April 2019.