Kenneth B. Hilliard
Why Do Adolescents Think This Way?
It is not rare to find an adolescent who looks as mature as an adult. It is also not uncommon to find an adolescent who speaks as well as an adult. But, it is rare to find an adolescent who can think (in the true sense of reasoning, thinking, and problem solving) in much the same manner as an adult. (There have been years of scientific experimentation by many outstanding individuals including Piaget, Darwin, and Freud into adolescents and how they think.)
On the other hand, adolescents are capable of completing many complex tasks using different reasoning skills. Adolescents can separate rational thought from non-rational thought, and are capable of coming up with many responses to a given situation.
It stands to reason that an adolescent’s thought process is far more superior than that of a younger child. An adolescent can;
receive information and test it at the same time for accuracy.
observe the results of these tests.
draw logical conclusions (based on these tests) from the observations, and
decide on their competence.
Adolescents have the ability to make reality secondary to possibility. They also use what is known as combinatorial thinking, (seeing items in a group as one not a combination), and lastly do not see all the combinations that are possible. (This material will be discussed in the section on Egocentric Thought.)
What happens to the thinking process? What factors can add to its growth or retardation?
Piaget has written that somewhere around puberty the thinking process changes from concrete operations to formal operations. Neurological change is not the only change at this time, the social environment of an adolescent plays a major role along with education or the lack of an education being another factor. Children construct reality out of their experience with the environment.
As children grow older and their thought process matures they can construct reality more closer to that of an adult.
A child must be allowed to experiment and grow in order to progress into formal structure. If this is not allowed to happen, then proper cognitive development will not take place and minds will not be allowed to develope in their proper logical sequence. But in order to gain still more insight into the adolescent mind, we must first look at what happened in the stages leading up to adolescence.
Egocentric thought is regarded as a state of mental development that can be overcome by moving into the next higher level of development. Children need to take the point of view of others in order to progress out of this stage.
The concept of egocentrism generally refers to a lack of differentiation in some area of subject-object interaction. At each stage of mental development, this lack of differentiation takes a unique form and is manifested in a unique set of behaviors.
Egocentric thought is present at every level at varying degrees and must be overcome by challenging yourself and testing the knowledge that is already present or which is about to be received.
The levels of egocentrism seem to revolve around accomplishing one major task. In order to progress this task must be accomplished. Each level has a title and task “assignment” beginning with birth though adolescence and beyond. A look at these stages will help to better understand children and what we as adults have overcome to reach the level that we are at now.
Birth to Two Years
referred to as the conquest of the object. Infants deal with objects that they can see. If an object is present they will interact with it. If it is not they will not. As they learn to walk around they learn to seek out objects and conquer them.
Three to Six Years
or the preschool years has the child seeking and conquering symbols. They learn to identify letters, numbers, words, and other symbols and learn elementary arithmetic operations. At this level egocentric thought is running rampant. Preschool children think in two levels, what they know concretely, and what they know concretely about the world. Preschool children believe that parents know it all, but once they find that an adult has made an error they believe that they know more than that adult. They feel adults are somewhat stupid and try to outwit them all the time. To them everything is magical.
Seven to Eleven Years
concrete operations begin and the child must learn to master relationships, quantities, and classes (at school). Children now see things as a unit or group of concepts (like math concepts). They have the ability to think through a problem and then solve it. At this age they have the ability to think of alternatives but do not know how to act on them. As the child approaches adolescents they begin to rebel against their families and other authority figures. Children at this age (eleven or so) begin to think that they have all the answers.
this is the period where formal operations begin (second or higher order skill). They seem obsessed with conquering thought. Formal operations allow adolescents to construct all the possibilities and also construct outcomes contrary to the fact that is presented. They are also able to conceptualize thought and make mental constructions of objects and reason about them. Adolescents can test many different hypotheses at one time. Formal operations allow adolescents to move out of ego assumptions and into their own (and others) thoughts and feelings. Yet as we all know adolescents are very self centered in their feelings, wants, and loves. The adolescent is very self critical and goes to great
lengths in grooming so that they are accepted by others.
Beyond Adolescence (age fifteen and older)
formal operations are firmly established and no new mental system begins. What the adolescent has developed as far as mental capabilities must last them for their entire life. Hopefully a good job was done and the adolescent did past through all the stages of egocentric development.
Adolescents develop the ability to imagine (most of) the possibilities inherent in a situation. Before solving a problem adolescents have the ability to analyze, then attempt to draw conclusions on what might happen next.
Piaget has proven though his model of sixteen binary operations that adolescents do have a higher thought process than that of a child and that this process does improve with age. Piaget has done the most research in this area. And lastly, egocentric concepts (thoughts) are required to progress from one stage of mental development to the next. Egocentric concepts are those which at any level of development, the child can form but not test.