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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
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
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
February 28, 2012
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
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