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Why Teenagers May Be Smarter Than You Think

December 20th, 2014     By Bob Pick, Vice President of Boys Town Nebraska/Iowa

Family, Parent-Child Relationships

Between the ages of 16 and 19, adolescents have achieved full physical maturity. In sharp contrast to early adolescence, when many teenagers are socially awkward and embarrassed by their bodies, late adolescence is the time when teens are more comfortable with their physical appearance. They’re more confident. And they dress accordingly (sometimes to the point of inappropriateness).

From a psychosocial standpoint, they exhibit better adjustment, a developing self-concept and a growing development of emotional intimacy. From a cognitive standpoint, teenagers are developing formal operational thought.

In fact, at this point in their lives, older adolescents are able, for all intents and purposes, to think as well as adults. Their IQs are the same as adults. They have the ability to think abstractly, reason, deduct and make decisions like adults. That means, when adults argue with an older adolescent, they are, from a cognitive perspective, arguing with an equal.

The only real difference is that adults have many more life experiences that have given them wisdom that teenagers have yet to acquire. Adults need to realize that older adolescents have well-developed intellectual capacities and can engage adults in very sophisticated conversations.

The development of intimacy skills is crucial during this stage. While this may or may not involve sexual activity, it certainly involves emotional activity. Once teenagers can become emotionally intimate with someone, they can share themselves and overcome some of their self-centeredness. These are basic steps towards maturity.

This development of intimacy helps lead them to show care and concern for others, to be honest about reality and to develop a basic sense of trust. It also helps teens to be grounded. And while there still are many challenges ahead, late adolescence is a time on the verge of young adulthood where it is essential to develop the ability to be emotionally intimate and mature.

Surprisingly, adolescence is one of the least known timeframes in the human lifespan. If you stop by your local bookstore, you will find many books on infants and toddlers and many more on adults and the elderly. But you will find few books on adolescents. That doesn’t mean that the teen years aren’t truly interesting and amazing, however. They are all that and more.

Our advice: do all you can to understand and enjoy them as much as possible.

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