Physical & Cognitive Development

Prepared by Ethel Cantu

Based on Development Across the Lifespan, 2nd Ed

by Robert Feldman, Prentice-Hall


Physical and Cognitive Development in Adolescence

•      Physical Maturity/Puberty

•      Cognitive Maturation

•      Educational Issues

•      Threats to Well-Being


•      Physical changes that bring individual to state of reproductive maturity

–    7 year range for onset of puberty

•    girls begin from 7-14 years old

•    boys begin from 9-16 years old

•      Sequence of changes is consistent

–    takes about 4 years

•      Timing of changes varies individually

–    girls begin 2-3 years before boys


•      Secular Trend

–   lowering of the age of onset of puberty

•   due to higher standard of living

•   healthier, better-nourished, better cared for

•      Adolescent Growth Spurt

–   rapid increase in height and weight

–   affects all skeletal and muscular dimensions

–   parts of body may be out of proportion


•      Primary Sex Characteristics

–   organs necessary for reproduction

•      Secondary Sex Characteristics

–   all other physiological signs of sexual maturity

•      Signs of Sexual Maturity

–   spermache--first ejaculation

–   menarche---first menstruation

Timing of Puberty

•      Early maturation

–    Generally positive for boys

•    Better at athletics, more positive self-esteem

–    Generally negative for girls

•    More popular, but not ready to deal with dating

•      Late maturation

–    Generally negative for boys

•    Seen as less attractive, less athletic

–    Neutral for girls


Cognitive Maturation

•      Piaget: formal operations

–    Capacity for abstract thought

•    Imagine possibilities

–   What might be true, not just what is true
–   Game of thinking--”what if…..?”

–    Capable of hypothetical-deductive reasoning

•    Test hypotheses

•    Form theories

–    Use ability to solve complex problems

•    Career planning, relationships, scientific method

Cognitive Maturation

•      Limitations of Piaget’s theory

–   Not all reach formal operations

•   Subject to formal education

–   Formal reasoning is not only aspect of mature thought

•   Emphasis on logic may be less important in non-scientific fields and in solving practical problems

Cognitive Maturation

•      Immature aspects of adolescent thought

–    Adolescent egocentrism (self-absorption)

•    Finding fault with authority figures

•    Argumentativeness

•    Indecisiveness

•    Self-consciousness

–    Leads to distortions              

•    Imaginary audience

•    Personal fable

–   Unique,  exceptional, invincible

Educational Issues

•      Transition to high school affects adjustment

•      School achievement influenced by parents, peers, neighborhoods, and schools

•      Dropping out of high school

–    poor grades, not liking school, expelled, supporting a family, marriage, pregnancy, job

–    lack of motivation, self-esteem, encouragement

–    inappropriate skill training, disciplinary problems

Transition to High School

•      6-3-3 pattern is more stressful than 8-4

–   Less personal relationships with teachers

–   Judged by higher standards

–   Life-change overload: puberty + other changes

•   Changes in family status

•   Girls more likely to have adjustment problems

–   Enter puberty earlier than boys
–   More emphasis on girls’ appearance and popularity
–   More pressure to begin dating

School Achievement

•      Positive correlations with higher achievement

–   Parental involvement

–   Authoritative parenting style

–   Peer support for academic achievement

–   Higher income and education of family

–   Social capital: family and community resources

–   High quality school with mixed-ability classes

Dropping out of High School

•      Drop-outs have trouble getting and keeping jobs; often low-level and low pay

•      Drop-out rate has declined but is high for minority groups and low SES

–   US Dept of Education, 1992               * NCES,1995

–   Hispanic       35%       28%

–   Black          14%       14%    

–   White                     9%             8%                                              

Factors Related to Dropping-Out

•      Poverty

–   few financial and educational resources

–   low-quality schools

–   value work over education

•   leave to support family

•      Family structure

–   large; single-parent; remarried families

•      Culture and language differences

Threats to Well-Being

•      Immature adolescent thought contributes

–   “It won’t happen to me.”

–   “I can handle it.”

•      Use of illegal drugs is prevalent & rising

•      High use of alcohol

•      Smoking has decreased, still problematic

•      STDs have increased