How to Deal with Self-Absorbed Teens

Does your kid think the world revolves around her? Here's why your adolescent is acting so self-absorbed and what you can do to curb it.

Dealing with teenagers can sometimes make you feel like you’re trapped in a perpetual re-run of the Me, Me, Me show. While going through the changes and challenges of puberty, sometimes teens get so self-absorbed that they forget about everyone and everything else.

Child and adolescent psychologist, Nikki Sulaica, LLP, formerly of Henry Ford Health System says parents anxious about their teens’ self-centeredness come to her asking how to help them be more concerned for others. The root of teens’ self-centeredness, Sulaica says, may rest in the amount of responsibility they take for their actions.

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“There’s a lot kids don’t have to be accountable for,” she says – particularly when parents rush in to rescue them every time they get stuck.

Walking a line

Parents should support their teens and be there for them when needed, she says, but when caregivers constantly give a “free pass” by not seeking accountability for problems at home or school, teens don’t learn the impact their actions have on others. Repeatedly footing the bill for speeding tickets, for example, doesn’t help teens learn why speeding is dangerous to themselves and others.

“(Parent interventions have) got to be balanced out with teens having the opportunity to be accountable for their own actions,” Sulaica says.

Tara Lindsay, a professional nanny who does volunteer work with teens, agrees.

“No parent wants to see their child struggle in life,” she says, but “sometimes when we think we’re helping, we have to look at what the long-term help will be.”

It’s a normal thing

When worried parents come to Sulaica for advice on their self-absorbed teenager, she assures them that their case is not unique.

“The first thing I do is try to normalize what they’re going through,” she says.

The inherent changes and developments that accompany adolescence are part of the problem. As teens try to find their places in the world, Sulaica says, friends, cellphones and social media emerge as the most important things in their lives.

“Development for kids … is a self-centered time without a doubt,” Sulaica says.

“The only difference between a toddler and a teen is the size of the vocabulary,” adds Lindsay. Both age groups, she says, experience sudden spurts of changes in development and perception that would challenge an adult going through the same thing. “To expect a toddler or teen to react to those changes with calm and peace is a little unfair.”

Tips for parents

For parents who want to help their teens be less self-absorbed, Sulaica has this advice: Give them as many opportunities as possible to be accountable for their actions.

“I feel like once we feel responsible for our own actions, we’re more likely to think about our actions and how they affect people in our world,” she says.

When teens have opportunities to take responsibilities for themselves, she says, “the world will open up” as teens realize the far-reaching consequences of their decisions.

Sulaica reassures parents that a bit of self-absorbed behavior doesn’t mean their teen is doomed to a life of selfishness. She says the majority of adolescents she sees are open to helping others through fundraisers and volunteer work.

“Now more than ever, I’m seeing kids open to being selfless,” she says.

Lindsay urges parents to set a good example for their teens through others-centered behavior and to find volunteer work for teens that relates to their interests and favorite activities.

“You can’t learn to read if you don’t practice. You can’t learn to be a compassionate person if you don’t go out and practice it,” she says.

Illustration by Amy Hojnacki

This post was originally published in 2012 and is updated regularly. 

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Comments
  • Might have overlooked it in the article above, but from what age to what age do most teenagers feel that ever body and everything revolves around them?

    Reply
  • Thank you for this great article. It really helped me understand as a parent what me and my husband are doing wrong.

    Reply
    • Stacey W.

      Thanks so much for your comment! We’re glad you found this valuable.

      Reply
  • I believe that teenagers in this generation have become less obsessed with themselves, compared to the generation that I grew up in.

    Reply
  • Teens these days grow up, learning that everything is about them I think that is why they are more self centered. Also technology has something to do with this, they are constantly on their phones and ignoring the outside world.

    Reply
  • Thank you for making this article I have a 17, year old grandson who said that he does not know what feelings are he doesn’t love the family I’m glad he is going to be 18 in 4 months

    Reply
  • I’m a teen and I’m not selfish nor am I constantly taking selfies. Maybe that’s why I have nothing in common with my peers.

    Reply
  • I know for a fact that I am self-centered, and I know why. My parents never punished me. They would send me to my room, but that was it. If I cried enough, I got the toy. If I complained enough, I got to go out. I try so hard to think of them instead of me, but it doesn’t work. My parents buy me things and give me money without me even asking. I hate being rich. I hear stories of other kids being punished, and they say thinks like “Oh, damn, I got my phone taken away for two weeks!” “Sorry, I can’t go out. I haven’t cleaned my room enough.” One time, my ex once told me “I have to study. I can’t hang out. The amount of As I get decides how many days a week I can use my computer.” It’s incredible. I have never been punished. I hate myself. Being rich sounds so nice to other people, but once you’re here, you wish you were poor. At least then you had better family values. (Yes, I appreciate what I have, so don’t give me any of that.)

    Reply

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How to Deal with Self-Absorbed Teens
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