Adolescent Egocentrism, Imaginary Audience, Personal Fable

David Elkind wrote about adolescent thinking and how it affects teenagers' feelings, interactions with others, and risk-taking. According to Piaget, egocentric means believing that everyone has the same point of view that you do. Piaget said that young children believe others see what they see, know what they know, hear what they hear, and feel what they feel.
Have you seen a preschooler hide by covering her eyes? Or nod yes or no in answer to grandma's questions over the phone? Or hold up a picture for someone else to see so that it faces him rather than the other person? Those behaviors reflect egocentric thinking.
Elkind extended Piaget's idea about egocentrism to adolescent development. Piaget said that young children between age 3 and 7 are egocentric. Piaget said that children completely overcome egocentrism by the time they are about 7 years old.
Elkind disagreed. He felt that young teenagers succumb to what he called adolescent egocentrism, a problem with thinking that is similar to the egocentrism displayed by younger children.
Where young children don't take another person's perspective at all; adolescents take other people's perspectives too much.
Elkind said that adolescents, now having figured out other people have a point of view, make the mistake of thinking that other people are concerned about the same things they are concerned about.
Adolescents think if they are worried about something, everyone else notices it too.
That big zit on my nose? The stain on my shirt? These cheap jeans mom made me wear?
Anyone who looks my way must be laughing at my zit/stain/jeans!
These feelings make teenagers feel extremely self-conscious, especially around age 13.
About age 13 is when teenagers generally feel the most self-conscious.
Self consciousness is exacerbated by the Imaginary Audience. Elkind said as teenagers think about what others are thinking, they create an imaginary audience, projecting their worst fears and biggest concerns on this audience, believing others not only notice everything they are most worried about, but that they are very critical of them as well. This causes them to be very concerned about being accepted by peers, and to be willing to conform to peer expectations in order to be accepted into a group.
Peer conformity is especially high in early adolescence (both conforming to negative behaviors as well as to positive behaviors). Early teens often feel they are always on stage, and have an intense need for privacy at times so they can feel some relief from constant scrutiny. Lock the door, turn on my stereo full blast, LEAVE ME ALONE!
But what if other people are not paying attention to a teen, when that is what the teen expects?
Elkind said teens will unconsciously seek to elicit the attention they expected if they are not getting it.
And this seeking of attention protects their sense of self.
Behaving in extreme, attention-getting ways, and dressing in bizarre fashions gets teens the stares they expected anyway!
Elkind said adolescent egocentrism and imaginary audience help explain why teenagers like to dress so differently from adults.
In addition to separating themselves from both children and adults, fashions that call attention to them protect the teenagers' sense of self.
Another aspect of Adolescent Egocentrism is Personal Fable.
Generally speaking, Personal Fable involves a sense of I am Unique.
This feeling of uniqueness can lead to several particular ways of thinking and behaving. Personal Fable peaks in early adolescence and gradually diminishes.
I am Unique: Nothing Bad will happen to me. Even when they understand the risks of behaviors like drinking and driving, unprotected sex, drug use and other risky activities, they fail to understand that bad results can occur for them personally, just like anyone else. I am Unique: No one else has had feelings like mine; no one else could understand what I'm going through.
Teenagers may isolate themselves because they don't think there's any point to trying to get help for a problem. They may believe that they feel love, or depression, or pain, or distress, or excitement more acutely than anyone else ever has. They may believe adults are especially unable to relate to their feelings, and disregard the fact that adults had similar experiences when they were teenagers.
I am Unique: When I think about problems, my answers are obviously correct. Elkind said teenagers believe in the omnipotence of their own thoughts. Their increased thinking abilities have made them more observant and more willing to argue their point of view, but... they are not always logical or practical in their problem-solving. However, at times teenagers can be more creative thinkers than adults.
Although teenagers may claim to dress in unusual ways in order to express their individuality, you often see extremely narrow allowance for individual expression within their own group of friends. Their dress may be different than adults or other teens, but within their immediate circle of friends, their style may almost seem like a uniform!
The vast majority of teens would never dress like a punk one day and a prep the next. However, as they age and become more confident, teenagers become more willing to express their individuality and less willing to conform to the group.

The End