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Cognitive Development, Ages 15 to 18 Years


By age 16, most teens are starting to think in abstract ways. They can deal with several concepts at the same time and imagine the future consequences of their actions. This type of thinking continues to develop into adulthood.

Also by age 16, teens can learn to process more complex problems and to develop and test theories. They are better able to handle a more demanding high school curriculum as their memory and organizational skills improve. These skills include time management, test preparation, and study skills. Written and spoken language become more and more sophisticated. They may also start to grasp political, moral, social, and philosophical concepts.

Most teens want to do the right thing, but their thoughts and behaviors may sway them to act with little thought about the end result. The teenage brain has not reached full development, and their choices can be different than what is expected by adults.

Teens understand that others have differing viewpoints. But they often firmly believe their own perception is the most true or valid. This is normal, but can be hard for parents.

Even though teens are forming adult cognitive abilities, they still don't have the life experiences or the brain maturity to guide them in making the best choices.


Current as of: March 1, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics


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