Cognitive Development: Age 12–19

Most adolescents reach Piaget's stage of formal operations (ages 12 and older), in which they develop new tools for manipulating information. Previously as children, they could only think concretely. But now in formal operations, they can think abstractly and deductively. Adolescents in this stage can also consider future possibilities, search for answers, deal flexibly with problems, test hypotheses, and draw conclusions about events they have not experienced first‐hand.

Cognitive maturity occurs as the brain matures and the social network expands, offering more opportunities for experimenting with life. Because this worldly experience plays a large role in attaining formal operations, not all adolescents enter this stage of cognitive development. Studies indicate, however, that abstract and critical reasoning skills are teachable. For example, everyday reasoning improves between the first and last years of college, which suggests the value of education in cognitive maturation.