If it seems to you that your teenage students are incredibly self-centered and think the entire world revolves around them and their desires, take heart! It's true! And it's normal. Adolescent Egocentrism is the difficulty children have distinguishing between their own behaviors and thoughts and those of others. They have a heightened self-consciousness because they think everyone is thinking about them and that everything revolves around them.
Egocentric thoughts that are typical of teenagers during their decision-making process include:
- Is this stupid?
- What's everyone else going to do?
- Will I regret this?
- Will this make me popular?
- Will this make me look stupid?
- Will I get caught?
- What will my friends think?
- What will girls (boys) think?
- Is it worth it?
- Will I get rewarded?
- Who will be angry?
- Will people laugh at me?
If these are the type of questions teens ask themselves during their decision-making process it becomes easier to see why they do so many stupid things, does not it?
Adolescents also engage in what is known as "magical thinking." Examples:
- I'm going to hide my progress report from my parents. I'll bring my 22% up to 70% in the next two weeks.
- I know I'm supposed to use birth control. But we just did it a few times and I'm a nice person so I will not get pregnant
- That will not happen to me.
- I know I can not sing or play an instrument but I'm going to be a rock star.
I once had a 17 year old boy tell me that he had no interest in anything that happened in the world before he was born. He was not trying to smart off- he was absolutely serious. That's the ultimate in egocentrism. They see the world through their own eyes and no one else's, Another very nice young man who was almost 18 said, "My parents have been telling me my whole life I have to share. I do not want to share! Why should I have to share? "
This egocentrism is something every teen goes through, but some handle it better than others. It's often confused with selfishness but it's actually very different. People who are selfish usually continue to be selfish throughout their lives. Most teens will change their focus on the world and their importance in it as they grow older. However, while they are teens this is the type of thinking you can expect. So how can you expect to teach them anything when all they care about is themselves? Simple: make it all about them! Well, actually it's not so simple but it is possible.
With every topic you introduce you must answer the unasked question, "What's in it for me?" You must provide them with a reason why they will need this information to do something that they care about doing, or a reason why will be financially or socially better off for knowing this information. If you do not do this, your chances that they will pay any attention are not good.
In a classroom of kids chances are every single one of them is thinking, "Everyone's looking at me." You must create a nurturing safe environment or kids will refuse to do anything they think make them look foolish or "uncool" in front of their peers. Do not underestimate the adolescent fear of how peers might react. A school where I taught many years ago required every senior to give a successful speech in their senior English class before they could graduate. Every year there were several students who did not receive diplomas because they were afraid to risk standing up in front of their peers.
Teachers should always try to create relevance for students when presenting material. Sometimes it's easier to do than others, but this initial framing of why the material is important to them in some way can be the key factor in whether the information is learned and retained.