Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?": Cognitive Development
The journey from childhood to adolescence is very challenging. Between the ages of 10 and 17 there are major changes in physical, cognitive, social, and moral development. The major task for adolescents is to establish their self-identity. By determining--as best they can--a sense of who they are, they attempt to move into a group that reflects or reinforces this self-identity. The group allows them to feel that they stand out from the crowd. This phase of development allows the adolescent to search for their sense of self. This is in order to answer the increasingly important question that they could not consider in earlier stages of development: "Who am I?"
Adolescents have the ability to begin moving from childhood toward adulthood due to their cognitive development. This is the ability of the brain to begin processing more abstract thoughts. Some of these thoughts, indeed many of these thoughts, are focused on themselves. By being able to think abstractly, which is a new developmental ability, they can begin asking themselves questions such as:
- What am I good at?
- How do others perceive me?
- What will I do in the future?
- What are my personal characteristics?
- What kind of person am I?
They may have asked themselves some of these questions before, but did not have the mental capacity to process the answers very deeply. Now, as adolescents, the journey toward self-reflection and self-identity, may begin. By asking clear self-identity questions, they may find answers that will be enlightening, even insightful and complex. They will strive to learn to make good choices and decisions toward their future as a responsible citizen.
This process is often difficult for adolescents. They may change periodically in terms of their self-concept. This relates to how they will answer the question: "What kind of person am I?" As adolescents enhance their understanding of themselves, they actually become more aware of their own emotions and feelings and how these feelings affect their daily lives. By gaining some emotional understanding of themselves, they are able to change their self-identity. This is how they perceive their characteristics and abilities fit with the opportunities that are available to them. These changes are now known to continue in our American society well into emerging adulthood. But many of the identity issues that begin during adolescence determine the paths an adolescent may take including future college, vocational or career choices, as well as other aspects of their lives.
Reprinted with the permission of the University of Florida. © 2008 University of Florida.
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