What It Means for Tweens and Teens to Have a Personal Fable

The personal fable arises from adolescent egocentrism

Adolescent girls laughing together.
Adolescent girls laughing together.. Blend Images - Sollina Images/Getty Images

It's not uncommon for middle school and high school students to develop a "personal fable." Such a fable is a common teen and older tween belief that arises from adolescent egocentrism, which develops between the ages of 11 and 13.

In short, the personal fable is the adolescent's belief that he or she is highly special and unlike anyone else who has ever walked the earth. Colloquially, these individuals are known as "special snowflakes." In other words, the adolescent thinks that since others are so obviously fascinated by him (adolescent egocentrism), he must be a very unique individual (the personal fable).

Learn more about this development of adolescent identity and the potential consequences it can result in with this review of the personal fable.

Personal Fables Are Normal

If you suspect that your tween or teen has developed a personal fable, don't worry that your child will grow up to be a narcissist. Belief in the personal fable is a developmentally normal cognitive limitation. Unfortunately, though, the belief can have serious consequences.

In particular, the personal fable can cause a tween or teen to believe that nothing bad could possibly happen to someone as exceptional as herself. In other words, since she's so special, she must be invulnerable. Some research has shown that belief in the personal fable and one's invulnerability is directly connected to common adolescent risk-taking behaviors such as promiscuous or unprotected sex, use of alcohol or illicit drugs, and physically dangerous acts, such as driving without a license or driving recklessly or while intoxicated.

You many need to consult with a counselor, therapist or other mental health professional to counter these behaviors.

On the other hand, personal fables also result in tweens and teens believing that they are omnipotent, or have enormous power, lacking in others. This belief can actually improve the way a child adjusts to changes or challenges in life and can improve self-worth.

The Difference Between Personal Fables and Self-Esteem

Belief in the personal fable should not be confused with having high self-esteem. Tweens or teens with low self-esteem usually still hold a version of the personal fable. In fact, they may even perceive their critical self-judgments as "evidence" of their particular uniqueness -- i.e., no one thinks quite as critically as they do. In other words, adolescents typically all believe they are special, even if they don't necessarily think of themselves as "good" special.

The Origins of the Term 'Personal Fable'

Psychologist David Elkind was the first to describe the adolescent phenomenon known as the personal fable. Elkind coined the term in his 1967 book "Egocentrism in Adolescence."

Elkind's characterization of the adolescent experience builds on Piaget's theory of adolescent development, which illustrates how teens do not differentiate between themselves and others, leading them to think that others are as obsessed with them as they are obsessed with themselves.

Piaget also found that the adolescent mental state is not rooted in reality. WIth this in mind, Elkind used the term personal fable to describe the untrue stories adolescents tell themselves about their place in the world.

Source:

Elkind, PhD, David. Egocentrism in Adolescence. Child Development. 1967. 38: 1025-1034.

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