Why Teens Are Self-Absorbed


While it’s true that most of our neurons have already formed by the time we’re born, that doesn’t mean our brains are finished developing. Brains don’t fully finish with development until about age 25. Only then is one’s brain considered mature. One aspect of that is that teens differ from pre-teens or adults on the question of selfishness. Teenagers tend to be more concerned with their own. They are more interested in obtaining value for themselves than for those around them (e.g., parents, family, close friends, etc.).

No vicarious happiness

This type of selfishness is often made apparent when teens spend money and time improving their own appearance. They don’t show the same concern for their friends. On the contrary, when a peer has a coveted new cool accessory, it more often results in negative emotions than positive ones.

It’s all in the brain

A study was published that can help explain the question of why teenagers are selfish. The results of this study suggest that teens use a different part of the brain to make decisions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, The New Scientist tells how Sarah-Jayne Blakemore made a surprising discovery:

“Blakemore found that teenagers rely on the rear part of the ‘mentalising network’ to make their decisions, an area of the brain called the superior temporal sulcus. In contrast, adults use the front part, called the prefrontal cortex.”

We know that the prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to become fully myelinated so it’s possible that teenagers rely on the superior temporal sulcus for the majority of their decision-making because the prefrontal cortex is still in a relatively immature state. In a different experiment using the same imaging technique, Blakemore found that teens also have a harder time putting themselves in the place of another or empathizing with someone else.

Social consequences

We need to take into account that teens have a harder time being interested in the welfare of others. That’s not because these teens are inherently selfish people but it is likely that this behavior is due to the fact that they rely on a different part of the brain to make the majority of their decisions.

When teens decide they want, deserve, or have earned something, they’re likely going to have unreasonable expectations about getting it. This includes an inability to understand reasons why they can’t have what they want. The result is often tensions between the teens and the rest of the family and even among their peers.

It’s easier for family members to deal with if they understand what’s going on, the reason why.

I don’t mean by this, bending to their will. On the contrary, this selfish behavior can be ameliorated by keeping expectations in check. How? By setting clear boundaries and remaining consistent and fair with them. And parents, sisters, brothers, friends … be patient, and keep in mind that they won’t be like that forever!

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