Cognitive Development in Adolescence: What Can Educators Do Regarding Early Onset or Delay in Maturation of Students?

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Both boys and girls find themselves in a period of awkwardness which may impact them psychologically. Self-esteem issues may arise with both late and early bloomers. Body image becomes an obsession for both genders especially girls. As social norms become relevant for children they try to act or want to look like what is “culturally acceptable” in their own community. For instance the need to be thin for girls and the need to be bulked up with muscles for boys.

During this time period adolescents are also shifting into the area of formal operational thinking as proposed by Piaget. During formal operational thought the child starts to “use operations to manipulate and modify thoughts and other mental operations.” (Newman & Newman, 2006, p. 310.) Skills such as distinguishing from reality and fantasy become apparent at this point in time.

What Educators Can Do

Educators need to take note of the changes that occur during these years of adolescence. Physical and cognitive development changes can benefit or harm an early adolescent psychologically. Teachers need to realize as well that these students do not all fall within the same range for “maturing”. While one 15 year old boy may have already gone through puberty and is dating, another 15-year-old boy may have not gone through puberty and is still playing with his action figures. The physical and cognitive changes interact with each other and work together.

If you as a teacher see that a student is having difficulty with his or her changes then there are steps you can take to help the child.

1. Approach the student and ask them if they need someone to talk to. Advise that you are there as his or her teacher but there are also helpful counselors located in the school.

2. Advise the student that if he or she does need to speak to someone that unless what he or she says is detrimental or harmful to himself, herself, or others…it will be confidential.

3. If you see a student getting picked on or bullied for his delay or early onset of cognitive ability or a physical maturation delay/early onset notify both sets of parents-the set of the child being bullied and the set of the child bullying. Set up an intervention with both families to help work through this process. Help the bully not only understand why it is wrong but how much it can hurt someone.

4. If you notice students are cognitively behind of others, pull them aside and see if they could use extra tutoring or after school help. If the student does not want this help it may be best to send a note home to the parents noting what you have observed.

5. Students can also be cognitively ahead of others, which may cause them to be called such names as “geek”, “nerd”, “teacher’s pet”, etc. While those having delays can be bullied, those students who are ahead of the class can get picked on as well. Do not just focus on the students who are falling behind, ensure you attend to the “gifted” students as well.

6. The teacher could use peer scaffolding with students who ave cognitive delays. Peer scaffolding is when the students work with each other to better understand the material or concepts being applied. One student would be on the “lower” end and one student would be on the “higher” end of understanding the material. Peer scaffolding allows for team activity and communication between students.

These tips are only a few suggestions as to what we as educators can do to ensure a smoothly running classroom. Educators should enlist all the help they need when dealing with difficulties in the classroom due to early maturation or a delay in maturation. School counselors, guidance counselors, school psychologists, and even outside referrals can help with this matter. Above all educators needs to know that they are there for the children and they act in the best interest of the students.

This post is part of the series: The Psychology of Adolescent Development

Learn more about how children are developing cognitively during puberty. This is a time in life where a lot is happening developmentally.

  1. Development in Early Adolescence: Puberty and Low Self Esteem
  2. Psychology and Development of Early Adolescence: Part Two
  3. Adolescent Development: Tips for Teachers on Dealing with Early or Late Maturation