Helping Teens Answer the Question "Who Am I?": Cognitive Development (page 2)

By — University of Florida IFAS Extension
Updated on Nov 12, 2009

Tips for Agents and Parents

Now that we have a sense of some of the important cognitive changes that occur during adolescence, we can use this information to help us understand teens. It will also help us recognize their sensitive thoughts and feelings. Remember, they are struggling to find their own sense of self, and direct them toward positive behavior and outcomes.

By the beginning of late adolescence, many of these changes are nearing completion. This allows teens to gain more acceptance and ownership of their self-identity. By reminding ourselves of these changes, we can become more sensitive to teen development and treat them with respect, compassion, and consideration that will help them move smoothly through these cognitive transitions.

Parents can help their children by providing support and by being understanding and tactful during these changes. When a teen is being boastful, unrealistic, or hypersensitive, it is often difficult to stop and think that the reason is cognitive development. It is important, however, to recognize the personal fable and the imaginary audience when we see them, as these are signs that they are growing cognitively. The approach to these should be with gentleness and patience. It may be given in a manner that is very positive, explaining that it is "normal" to feel that everyone is watching you, for example, but in reality, they really are not. (They will probably insist that they are, too; so expect this answer!)

It is also all right to let a few unrealistic statements about goals pass by without reacting to them. A smile and a nod can say a lot to a teen about your acceptance of their search for self-identity. This works much better than disagreeing or telling them that they need to get more realistic goals. Once the adolescent understands that you support them, even with all of their fables and audiences, they will know that they can share more of their private thoughts and feelings with you. And this is, after all, what we really hope for in their best interest.


Arnett, Jeffrey J. (2001). Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Berk, Laura E. (2000) Child Development, 5th Edition. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Wheeler, M.D. (1991). Physical changes of puberty. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 20, 1-14.


1. This document is FCS2241, one of a series of the Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date December 6, 2005. Visit the EDIS Web Site at

2. Rosemary V. Barnett, assistant professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other extension publications, contact your county Cooperative Extension service.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A. & M. University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Larry Arrington, Dean.

Copyright Information

This document is copyrighted by the University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) for the people of the State of Florida. UF/IFAS retains all rights under all conventions, but permits free reproduction by all agents and offices of the Cooperative Extension Service and the people of the State of Florida. Permission is granted to others to use these materials in part or in full for educational purposes, provided that full credit is given to the UF/IFAS, citing the publication, its source, and date of publication.

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