Working with Self-Centeredness: Characteristics of Adolescent Egocentrism

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, my teen “thinks the world revolves around them”, know you’re not alone! Adolescent egocentrism is a normal and common stage in teenage development, often occurring between the ages of 11-16. 

Adolescence is a time of not only physical and hormonal changes, but also a time of emotional, cognitive, and social changes for your teen. The adolescent brain is working rapidly to acclimate and develop necessary skills. In transitioning from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, one of these key changes revolves around the way your teen thinks about themselves and how others view them. 

This article will review why it feels like your teenager is egocentric and thinking only about themselves, as well as providing ideas to help them expand their focus. The teenage years can be fraught with challenges and changes, and can also be the perfect time to connect to a mental health professional with expertise in adolescents. 

What is Adolescent Egocentrism?

Adolescent egocentrism is a shift in a teenager’s perspective. Instead of taking in the perspectives of others around them, you might find your teen focused almost exclusively on their own perspective, thoughts, and feelings. Dr. Jean Piaget studied childhood cognitive development and described egocentrism as a child thinking that everyone else thinks the same way they do. Dr. David Elkind built upon Dr. Piaget’s work in adolescents and coined the term “adolescent egocentrism.” He discovered that teenagers have difficulty separating their thoughts from the thoughts of others. In other words, if your teen thinks “I said something really stupid in that group chat and now everyone thinks I’m an idiot”, they firmly believe everyone else in the group chat thinks that too. 

In psychology, two components of adolescent egocentrism are the “imaginary audience” and “personal fable.” The imaginary audience refers to a teen’s belief that they are constantly being assessed, judged, and scrutinized by everyone around them. A teen’s personal fable refers to their belief that they are unique, special, and exempt from rules or consequences. 

How Adolescent Egocentrism Impacts Teenage Behavior

Teens often believe that no one else, especially their parents (or other adult caregivers), understands what they’re going through or experiencing. Additionally, adolescence is a time when teens are trying to figure out who they are, what their interests are, and what’s important to them. Taken together, these changes can make it seem like your teen only cares about themselves. 

When we take into account brain development and the fact that adolescents are still developing executive functioning and emotional regulation, it’s no wonder that your teen is saying things like “you wouldn’t understand” with a door slam. 

Here are some common ways egocentrism affects teenage behavior. 

Increased, and often excessive, self-consciousness

Adolescent egocentrism can look like a teen being very self-centered, which can come across as selfish and abrasive. But a lot of that self-centeredness comes from intense insecurity and worrying about what others think about them. You might notice your teen spending hours getting ready or refusing to go places if they believe they don’t look perfect or they don’t have the right outfit. This can be related to another term in psychology called imaginary audience, where a person feels they are under constant and intense observation by others.

Difficulty considering other points of view

Because egocentrism involves your adolescent believing everyone thinks the same way they do, you might notice them having difficulty considering other viewpoints. When trying to offer alternative suggestions to your teen, you might get the response “you just don’t get it” or “of course you’d say that, you’re a parent.”

Risky behaviors

Part of adolescent egocentrism can be a skewed view of risks and consequences. Your teen might say things like “oh that will never happen to me” and you might notice them doing things like not using a seatbelt when in the car or underestimating the impact substances will have on them. This is one impact of the personal fable belief.

Inflated self-esteem

Egocentrism may also lead your teen to exhibit inflated self-esteem in certain areas of their lives. They might be doing this as a way to protect themselves from looking at their mistakes and failures. You might also notice that they think other people are jealous of them and their successes. You might see your teen’s personal fable narrative here as well.

Withdrawal

Due to fear of being scrutinized by others (that “imaginary audience” again), in the throes of egocentrism your teen might also withdraw and stop engaging in things they used to enjoy or stop spending time with friends and family. Your child who once confided regularly in you is now a teen who has stopped sharing with you out of fear of being judged, despite any reassurances you give them. 

How Adolescent Egocentrism Impacts Mental Health

Your teen’s difficulty with perspective taking and increased self-centeredness can have significant impacts on their mental health. Difficulty with perspective taking can impact your teen’s relationships with their peers, which may lead to increased anxiety in social situations. Additionally, your adolescent may experience an increase in depressed mood due to their self-criticalness and comparison to their peers. If you notice changes in your teen’s mood, know that resources are available. Consider scheduling a consultation for your teen with a mental health provider that specializes in adolescent care. 

Tips for Parents of Teens:

Parenting a teen as they navigate through this stage of egocentrism can be challenging! Here are some tips and tricks to help you parent your teen during this tricky time.

It doesn’t last forever

While it can feel like your teen’s self-centeredness will never end, it can be helpful to remind yourself that this is a phase in their development and most teens start incorporating the perspectives of others as they grow and mature.

Remember your own teenage years

While your teenage experience will undoubtedly differ from your own teen’s experience, it can be helpful to remember how you thought and acted in high school, what trends you followed, or what celebrities you tried to emulate. Remembering your own growth can help you empathize with your teen during these tough times.  

Broaden your teen’s horizons

Gently provide alternative thoughts or interpretations to your teen’s egocentric views. Offer possible viewpoints from other perspectives. Expand your teen’s worldview by introducing them to new concepts and ideas. In the moment, your teen’s brain might not be able to take in the new information but know that continued exposure to new ideas and beliefs helps your teen consider alternative perspectives in the long run as they learn and develop

Try to listen without arguing

From an adult perspective, your teen’s thoughts can appear very unrealistic to you. While at times it might be helpful to challenge their beliefs or provide evidence to the contrary, this strategy might backfire and cause your teen to think you don’t understand their experience. A different approach is to work on listening to your teen and validating their thoughts and emotions. Try to see why these beliefs make sense from their perspective. Offering support and validation, without advice, can encourage your teen to continue to confide in you. 

Connect with your teen on their level

If your teen is withdrawing from activities, try to find opportunities to connect with them on things they enjoy or activities that will reduce self-criticalness. For example, this might mean going to a performance or a farmer’s market instead of asking them to play their instrument or practice their sport while you watch. 

Getting Additional Support 

Parenting can be incredibly rewarding at times and also feel very isolating at others, particularly during adolescence. 

If your teen’s egocentrism has led to increased conflict, isolation, or strong emotions for you as a parent, find ways to connect to positive support through family members, friends, enjoyable hobbies, and mental health support. Remember, you are not alone in this experience and this is a developmental phase that will pass.

Therapists at Joon are experts in teen mental health. If you believe your teen could benefit from personalized, evidence-based, engaging therapy, schedule a free consultation with a Joon care coordinator today. 

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March 22, 2023
Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD | Clinical Content Manager

Lauren Hammond, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who received her PhD in Clinical Psychology from Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Hammond provides services to adolescents and adults using evidence-based treatments from a cognitive-behavioral framework, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Prolonged Exposure. Dr. Hammond has specialized training in treating mood and anxiety disorder, trauma and PTSD, personality disorders, and self-harm and suicidality.

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