How to Deal with a Self-Absorbed Teen
It is absolutely normal for teenagers to be self-centered. Adolescence is a time of rapid change, and being focused on themselves is actually part of the development that helps teens separate from their families and form their own unique identity. All teenagers are still trying to figure out who they are and what they are capable of. This development stage usually improves around the age of 15 or 16.
So if you have a self-absorbed teen, the good news is that you are not alone and your parenting is not to blame. The bad news is that this phase of adolescence can be incredibly frustrating, not to mention embarrassing. So, what’s a parent supposed to do when their teen thinks they are the center of the universe? Here are a few tips:
Role model. Demonstrating kindness, compassion, and service to others will probably have the most lasting effect on your teen. They are observing you, whether it looks like it or not. While this doesn’t reap immediate results, it provides the most valuable lessons without nagging.
Build empathy. Your teen is gaining new understanding all the time, so use their natural curiosity to help them consider other people’s situations. Ask open-ended questions that require them to interpret how other people might feel, such as “how do you think your teacher felt when the student yelled at her?” or, “how do you think FriendA felt when FriendB cancelled their plans at the last minute?” or, while watching a news story, “Can you imagine how hard it would be to handle that situation?”
Consider alternatives. Self-centered teens tend to assume that everyone else’s behavior is related to them. Instead, ask questions to help your teen think through other reasons for how people behave. For example, if a teacher gives them a bad grade and your teen immediately says that the teacher doesn’t like them, admit that is one possible explanation, but then ask if they can think of any other reasons? If you observe someone acting rudely, brush it off and say, “I bet they are having a really bad day.”
Volunteer. Nothing gets our minds off ourselves more than serving others! Volunteering will allow your teen to become aware of the needs of others, feel more grateful for their own situation, and realize that they can make a difference in the world.
Encourage wonder. Find out what amazes your teen and give them opportunities to experience it. Perhaps gazing at stars, visiting the ocean, or touring a museum helps them think about how much bigger the world is than they are.
Don’t focus on material possessions. Our material possessions can make us more self-centered, so try to avoid using them as a reward or punishment. Instead, you might save lavish gifts for special occasions and use experiences as rewards or punishments. For example, a punishment could be assigning extra chores or not being able to visit a friend’s house over the weekend.
Limit media. Our culture – through social media, the Internet, and TV advertisements – promotes self-centeredness and a focus on superficial things. Combat their messages by reducing the amount of time your teen is exposed to them.
Assign responsibility. We all need to contribute to our households and community. One of the best ways to keep a teenager down to earth is expecting them to contribute in some way to the family.
Teach coping skills. Teens can feel uncomfortable with the powerful feelings and insecurities that come with adolescence, and sometimes those feelings can spill over into angry or arrogant behavior. Help your teen to identify their feelings and find stress relievers that help them cope with difficulties in a healthy way, such as journaling, talking with a friend, exercising, listening to music, or meditation.
Ensure accountability. Do not rescue your teen from their mistakes or step in to fix their failures. The absolute best way for a teen to realize the world does not resolve around them is to allow them to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. If a teen is never held accountable, they will never learn the impact their actions have on others. Parents should still be supportive and help their teens brainstorm solutions, but your teen should address their problems on their own.
Self-centeredness is very common in adolescence, and while irritating, many times the best policy is to ignore their comments. Pick your battles. If your teen’s behavior is hurtful to other people, address it, but arguing or debating every self-centered comment they make will only damage your relationship and disturb the peace of your home.