Cognitive Development of Adolescents

Adolescence is considered as a stage wherein a person transitions into an adult (Green & Peal, 2010). At this stage, the person experiences significant changes not only in the physical aspect, but also in the cognitive aspect. As the study about adolescent cognitive development have been conducted by the Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget. In his theory of cognitive development, Piaget proposed that the mental capability of children develops with age.

According to Piaget, there are four major stages of cognitive development wherein children can be classified into. Children between the ages 0 to 2 years old are classified under the sensorimotor stage. At this stage, learning occurs through a trial and error process (Grossniklaus, Smith, & Wood, 2011). The second stage of Piaget’s cognitive development is what he calls as the preoperational staged. Children who are between the ages 2 years old and 7 years old are included in the preoperational classification and are believed to have already developed the capability to communicate, memorize and imagine (Grossniklaus et al., 2011). Children at the preoperational stage are believed to possess egocentric behaviors and are beginning to develop their logical intelligence. Children between 7 to 11 years old are believed to be already self-aware. They now have the ability to reason and determine the consequences of their actions. Piaget classifies this stage of cognitive development as concrete operational. The last stage of cognitive development, according to Piaget, is the formal operational stage (Green & Peal, 2010). Under this stage, children are believed to possess the ability to understand and formulate abstract ideas, such as morality, justice and conscience.

Piaget’s formal operational stage is critical because it corresponds to the adolescent stage, which encompass children between 11 and 15 years old. It is the stage wherein most children reach the peak of their thought processes. Children, at this stage already have the ability to hypothesize. As observed by one scholar, formal operational thinkers are able to “construct hypothesis to account for a particular phenomena, deduce from these hypothesis that certain events should occur, and test the hypothesis by finding out if the events do occur” (Day, 1981, p. 45). Formal thinkers also begin to understand abstract ideas, such as love, faith, morality and spirituality (Grossniklaus et al., 2011). Some scholars associate the cognitive development of adolescence to the physical changes that occurs in the brain (Steinberg, 2005, p. 70). Because of this heightened ability to think for themselves, many adolescents become self-conscious. They tend to think that all eyes are on them and that they are the focus of other people’s attention, which accounts for awkwardness, especially in public. Adolescents also tend to think that their experiences are unique and that no one understands them.

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Psychosocial Development in Adolescence

An adolescent’s psychological and social development is influenced by many converging factors, which includes their cognitive and emotional experiences. These experiences shape their behavior towards their family, peers and in public. According to Stanley Hall, a renowned American psychologist, individuals under the adolescent stage experience psychological and emotional turmoil, which he refers as ‘storm and stress’ (Arnett, 1999, p. 317). For Hall, this psychological and emotional turbulence accounts for the observed behavioral problems, such as mood swings, irrationality and impulsiveness. Scholars have also observed five major concerns that shape the psychosocial development of adolescents. Accordingly, adolescents are concerned about establishing their own identity; establishing their autonomy; establishing intimacy; concerns about their own sexuality; and concerns about their achievements (Ruffin, 2009, p. 4). It is quite common, for instance, for adolescents to experience confusion regarding their personality, primarily because of the many changes that occurs in their physical, mental and emotional state. Some adolescents, even exhibit delinquent behaviors; engaging in risk taking activities. Others, on the other hand, could not get along well with their parents; possessing a mindset that their parents could not understand their emotions. As a result, most adolescents spend more time with their friends as compared to the time they spend at home with their parents. Some get involved in drugs and substance abuse along with their peers. For Hall, such anti-social behaviors are associated with the emotional stress that occurs during adolescence, which eventually subsides as the individual matures (Arnett, 1999, p. 317).

The turbulent psychosocial stage that adolescents go through should not be ignored. It is during the adolescence stage, for instance, when most individuals start to get involved with gangs, crime and drugs. Others struggle with anxiety and depression to the point that they would attempt to end their lives. The risk of suicide among adolescents is high. Studies in the United States, for instance, have observed that suicide is the leading cause of death for most young people between the ages 15 to 25 years old (Blum & Qureshi, 2011). More than ever, adolescence is the stage wherein the child needs the emotional and moral support of their parents. Consistent with the social disorganization theory, the breakdown of social institutions, particularly the family, could impact the psychological and social development of children (Kubrin, 2009, p. 226). Failed parenting, divorce and dysfunctional families, for instance, are seen as the common grounds of delinquency among adolescents. Support groups and social institutions, such as the school and the community, can also provide a nurturing effect on the development of individuals in this tumultuous period. The breakdown or failure of these institutions to provide the necessary intervention could also influence the psychosocial development of adolescents.