Psychological Development Across the Lifespan

Adolescence (12–18)

Why are adolescents so self-conscious?

The shift in adolescents’ cognitive abilities has far-reaching implications for their social lives as well as their view of themselves. Their ability to put themselves in other’s shoes, to take another’s perspective, continues to develop. Moreover, they recognize that there are levels of human behavior and motivation. What is shown to the public is not necessarily the whole picture. There can be feelings that are covered by a public mask. Hidden motivations can drive behavior. When they appreciate that they can see behind other peoples’ surfaces, they realize their own interior lives might be equally visible. There is a tremendous feeling of exposure. It’s almost as if everyone around them has developed X-ray vision and they are suddenly naked.

The intense self-consciousness of the typical adolescent is well known. Young adolescents, in particular, become extremely self-conscious about their appearance and are prone to mortifying feelings of embarrassment. The wrong shoelaces, pant length, hair style—all of these can trigger a crisis of self-consciousness as well as peer ridicule. These difficulties are at their height in early adolescence, in the first half of the teens. By the late teens, adolescents’ self-consciousness diminishes. Older adolescents recognize that regardless of the visibility of their personal quirks and foibles, such matters are of little or no interest to the rest of the world. Most people are far too wrapped up in their own concerns to waste precious energy and attention on another person’s minor imperfections. Older adolescents also realize that their inner struggles and failures are far from unique. Thus, there is little reason to feel shame, since these experiences are widely shared.


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