Since the 1980s, China has experienced rapid economic development. However, different regions are developing at different rates, resulting in significant differences in the economy between regions. An increasing number of adults from economically underdeveloped rural areas are moving to economically developed cities in search of better job opportunities. At the same time, due to the high cost of living and education in the cities, most of rural migrate residents cannot afford the education and daily living costs of their children in the cities, resulting in their children remaining in their rural hometowns. These children are known as left-behind children (LBC) [1–3]. LBC are children under 18 who were left behind at their rural communities while one or both of their parents migrated into cities for work, and who have not lived with them for over six months [4, 5]. According to the report of All-China Women's Federation in 2013, China now has approximately 61.03 million LBC, which represents an increase of 2.42 million since 2005, and this accounts for 21.88% of the Chinese children population today . Most of them are in the rural areas of the following provinces: Sichuan Province, Guangdong Province, Jiangxi Province, Anhui Province, Henan Province, and Hunan Province .
According to previous studies in China and abroad, children who are left behind encounter a range of problems. LBC tends to show more emotional, behavioral, and learning problems, such as depression, non-suicidal self-injury, and game addiction [8–10]. Previous studies also indicated that low self-esteem and LBC’s emotion and behavior problems are strongly related [11–13].
Valtolina and colleagues point out that lack of self-esteem is an obvious characteristic of LBC in many countries around the world . In China, contradictory results have been given from a few studies on self-esteem of LBC. A study reports that the self-esteem of LBC is significantly lower than that of non-left-behind children (NLBC) among junior high school students . However, another study shows that there is no difference in self-esteem between Chinese LBC and the control group, but the self-esteem of urban LBC is significantly higher than that of LBC in remote rural areas . The interview results of the same study show that from the perspective of teachers, there may be differences in self-esteem between LBC and non-LBC. So, there is lack of consistent findings in research on self-esteem among LBC in China.
Numerous empirical studies have shown that social support significantly related to one’s level of self-esteem[17, 18]. Social support is a broad concept, which in a broad sense refers to instrumental assistance (such as helping with work), emotional assistance (such as providing encouragement) or informational assistance (such as informing someone that there is a job opportunity) from others. Social support is considered to be a protective factor for mental health. People who receive less social support are more likely to experience depression and social anxiety. Lack of parental support has been shown to affect the mental health of LBC . The results of the studies on social support of LBC in China are inconsistent. One of the articles points out that there is no difference in perceived and objective support between LBC in junior high school, but the utilization of support in the former is relatively low . Another article points out that the social support system of LBC in rural areas is extremely imperfect .
As we all know, children may face a lot of stress in the process of growing up. Coping strategy is an important factor to determine whether life stress affects mental health [22, 23]. Different coping strategies adopted by children in the face of stress will bring different results, which will also have different effects on the psychological health of children. For individuals in high stress state, if they lack positive coping strategies and social support, the risk of psychological damage can be twice as high as that of the general population [24, 25]. Previous studies have pointed out that compared with NLBC, LBC are less likely to use positive coping styles such as problem-solving . If a child has social problem-solving deficits, or have difficulties identifying problems and generating appropriate solutions, he will have more hopelessness, depression, suicide-related behaviors[27, 28]. Many studies have confirmed that social support provides relevant information and emotional support for problem-solving [26, 29]. Individuals with high social support tend to have high self-esteem personality traits, and the level of self-esteem is also related to the level of problem-solving [17, 30].
The purpose of this study is to detect the self-esteem, social support and coping strategies of LBC in Anhui Province, also examine the relationship between self-esteem, social support and coping strategies of LBC group. Finally, investigate the possible mediating factors between teenagers' self-esteem and problem-solving tendency and effectiveness.