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Elkind's Theory of Adolescent Egocentrism

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  • 1:05 Egocentrism
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Parents of teenagers often complain that their kids are self-centered. In this lesson, we'll examine psychologist David Elkind's theory of adolescent egocentrism, including what it is and how it impacts the way teenagers think.

Adolescence

Charlotte is sixteen, and her parents are getting very frustrated with her. She used to be a normal kid who listened to her parents and understood the consequences for her actions.

But lately, Charlotte has changed. She's acting out in dangerous ways, like driving too fast and dating boys that aren't the best influence on her. She argues with her parents and acts like the entire world revolves around her.

Charlotte is in adolescence, or the period between childhood and adulthood, which usually lasts from about age 13 to 20. She is going through many changes, including physical, intellectual, and emotional changes. Adolescence is a difficult time for many people, and the changes that take place can make things difficult for both the adolescent and the people close to her.

Let's look closer at one aspect of adolescence, egocentrism, and how it affects the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of teenagers, like Charlotte.

Egocentrism

One thing that's driving Charlotte's parents crazy is that she seems to believe that the entire world revolves around her. Her ideas and opinions are the only right ones, and no one else can possibly understand things the way she does.

Psychologist David Elkind argued that adolescents go through a stage of self-absorption that leads to only being able to see the world through one's own perspective. He called this stage egocentrism.

Egocentrism can lead to many of the hallmarks that people think of as typical adolescent behavior. For example, Charlotte argues with her parents, like many teenagers. This tendency to argue comes out of egocentrism. Because Charlotte believes that her world view is the only right world view, anyone who disagrees is wrong, and that includes her parents. Thus, she argues with them (often passionately) because her egocentric view is that she is right.

Another aspect of egocentrism that many adolescents experience is that of an imaginary audience, or believing that they are the center of everyone else's attention. For example, Charlotte gets very self-conscious whenever she's around others. She believes that they are watching and judging her, even if they don't give any indication that they are. Her egocentrism has led to her having an imaginary audience.

As part of the imaginary audience, Charlotte also overanalyzes what others say and do. For example, the other day, she accidentally bumped into a cute guy in the hallway at school. She apologized, and he said, 'Don't worry about it.'

For hours afterward, Charlotte thought about what he said. Did he mean that she shouldn't worry about it because he was OK or because he was actually glad to have an excuse to talk to her? Or was he being sarcastic? Did he think she bumped into him on purpose or that she was just clumsy?

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