Well, cognitive dissonance is one of those things that all human beings do – whether you’re a teen or not. You’ll lie to yourself, which is what cognitive dissonance forces you to do, in order to relieve tension in your mind.
But the interesting thing is that if you can notice that this is what you’re doing then you might be able to make better choices and see the truth of the situations you’re in.
Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or even discomfort that we experience when we have to hold two or more contradictory beliefs at the same time. And this actually might happen a lot as a teen. For instance, let’s say your parents continue to say, “Drugs and drinking are only going to get you in trouble – stay away from them.” But, your friends are always encouraging you to drink and use drugs by telling you, “Hey, it’s fun. We’re going down to a beach party tonight. Everyone is going to be there and there’s gonna be beer and wine there.”
Typically, anyone who experiences cognitive dissonance ends up feeling psychologically uncomfortable. They end up trying to reduce this discomfort by actively avoiding certain situations that are only going to increase this tension. They might also attempt to avoid any information that might also increase the tension of holding two opposing views.
The founder of the theory of cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger, noticed that humans strive for internal consistency. They seek consistency between their expectations and their reality. Because of this people will do their best to reduce this tension and strive for uniformity within themselves. For instance, let’s say you’ve decided that for your New Year’s resolution for 2015, you’re going to stop eating sweets. You know that it will help you stay in shape for the swim team and sugar isn’t good for you anyway. However, in as early as the second week of January, you find yourself eating a sugary cookie. In order to help yourself stay uniform and consistent inside of yourself, you’re likely to do the following things:
- Change your behavior – stop eating the cookie.
- Justify your behavior – you tell yourself that you’re allowed to cheat every once in awhile.
- Justify your behavior by adding a new cognition or thought – you tell yourself I’m going to spend 30 more minutes at practice to work this off.
- Ignore or deny the information leading to the cognitive dissonance – you tell yourself that this cookie is not sugary at all.
So, you might see yourself doing one of the above listed items. Can you see how you might change your thinking, your behavior, or the truth about a situation in order to feel okay inside?
When it comes to drinking or drug use, let’s say you’re experiencing the conflict described above. Your parents say drinking is bad news but you’re friends say it’s great fun. And you can actually see both points of view – but what do you do?
You might decide to not drink at all, favoring the valuable information from your parents. You might decide to drink and not tell your parents, telling yourself that you’re a teen and teens are supposed to have fun, even if it’s dangerous. Or you might say to yourself that you’re going to drink but you’re going to lie to your parents, telling them that it’s not dangerous and you’re doing it under safe conditions, even though you know any kind of drinking or drug use can be risky. Or, unlike the first option, you might side with your friends, and ignore the information that drinking can be dangerous.
The point is as a teen, you’re likely going to experience these kinds of difficult situations. Of course, you’ll experience this later in life too. One way to solve these dilemmas for yourself is to make a firm decision about who you are and who you want to be in life. Keep in mind that erring on the side of safety often leads to health and well being.