Diseases & Conditions
Intellectual and Behavioral Development
In early adolescence, a child begins to develop the capacity for abstract, logical thought. This increased sophistication leads to an enhanced awareness of self and the ability to reflect on one's own being. Because of the many noticeable physical changes of adolescence, this self-awareness often turns into self-consciousness, with an accompanying feeling of awkwardness. The adolescent also has a preoccupation with physical appearance and attractiveness and a heightened sensitivity to differences from peers.
The adolescent also applies his new reflective capabilities to moral issues. Pre-adolescents understand right and wrong as fixed and absolute. The adolescent questions standards of behavior and frequently rejects tradition—often to the consternation of parents. Ideally, this reflection culminates in the development and internalization of the adolescent's own moral code.
Many adolescents begin to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as fast driving, substance abuse, sexual experimentation, and sometimes, theft and other illegal activities. Some experts think this behavior occurs in part because adolescents may feel a sense of power and immortality.
Last full review/revision February 2003
Source: The Merck Manual Home Edition