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How Adolescent Thinking Develops

Topic Overview

Adolescents typically think in concrete ways. This means that they have difficulty with abstract and symbolic concepts. Their thinking tends to be focused on the present. They are just starting to be able to gather information from experience, analyze information, and make critical decisions about future choices and consequences.

This stage of thinking should be taken into account when you are counseling adolescents. For example, when you are talking about smoking, it may be more effective to point out short-term consequences like bad breath or loss of athletic ability than long-term consequences such as cancer.

Age 11 to 14 years tends to be a self-centered period. Many adolescents are preoccupied with their own desires and needs and can be insensitive to others. Because they are so self-centered, they seem to believe other people are watching them. As a result, some teens may feel as if they are constantly "on stage" and are being judged by an imaginary audience. A teen who is affected by this imaginary audience may be self-conscious and concerned about appearance. For example, some teens may comb their hair endlessly, change their clothes often, and constantly look in the mirror to see how they look to others.

It is normal for adolescents to have a sense of being uniquely invincible, to have an "it will never happen to me" mind-set. This way of thinking may limit their ability to assess situations, risks, and future consequences. As a result, they may engage in risky behaviors and test authority.

Early adolescents gradually become more sophisticated in their thinking. Adolescents are also starting to recognize that issues are complex and that information can be interpreted in different ways. They learn flexibility, complex reasoning, inductive and deductive reasoning, sensitivity toward others, and problem solving. The ability to see other points of view sometimes can be unsettling for adolescents who may then question issues that they accepted at face value in the past. This can make some adolescents feel insecure or adrift. In times of stress, teens may revert to concrete, simplistic thinking.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised February 28, 2012

Last Revised: February 28, 2012

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