Adolescent Decision-Making

As you've probably seen, how you make decisions changes as you age. As you gain knowledge and experience in many areas, your decision−making abilities grow more complicated and nuanced. This is especially true throughout adolescence when cognitive growth is at its peak and your worldview continuously evolves and changes.

The Development of Logical Reasoning in Adolescence

Adolescence is a transitional period of life that sees considerable changes in physical, cognitive, emotional, and social development. Of particular importance to how adolescents make decisions is the development of their logical reasoning skills. At its core, logical reasoning involves the application of analytical skills to problem−solving. Adolescents often use this type of thinking to evaluate potential consequences and make reasoned judgments. This process involves understanding the relationship between beliefs and evidence, drawing connections between facts and arguments, and recognizing common fallacies in reasoning.

The Emergence of Abstract Thinking: How Adolescents Consider Possibilities

It's no wonder that adolescents can sometimes make ill−advised decisions; they are in the midst of developing their cognitive abilities and learning how to understand and process information. To gain insight into adolescents' decision−making, it's important to understand their cognitive development. One of the most significant changes that occurred during this time is the emergence of abstract thinking. This is the ability to consider possibilities beyond those that are concretely present.

By understanding abstract ideas and considering long−term consequences, adolescents are able to extrapolate from their current environment and better comprehend the multiple potential outcomes of a given situation. As a result, adolescents can now think about variables such as rewards or punishments for a given behavior in terms of magnitude and time frame rather than simply immediate gratification or repercussions.

The Social Brain: How Peers Influence Adolescent Decision−Making

We've seen how the development of the brain's cognitive structures can influence adolescent decision−making, but what about their social structures? It's no secret that adolescents are heavily influenced by their peers, and it turns out that this is an incredibly important factor in how they make decisions. It's been found that teenagers often rely on the opinions and beliefs of their peers when making decisions.

They seek advice, guidance, and information from them; likewise, they are responsive to both positive and negative feedback. This suggests that teens are very aware of the social consequences of their decisions. This type of peer influence can take many forms:

  • Peers might provide teens with guidance or advice on major decisions.

  • They could also exert pressure to conform to certain behaviors or attitudes.

  • In some cases, teens may even mimic the behavior of their peers if they feel like they are part of a group or have an affinity for those around them.

Risk−Taking in Adolescence: Why Teenagers Make Poor Decisions

Late adolescence is a particular time of transition between childhood and maturity. These children are generally considered healthy but may acquire persistent medical issues around this period. A few health issues, such as eating disorders, are exclusive to this cohort of late adolescence. They are always concerned about their appearance and do not want to gain weight. As a result, they tend to hunger throughout this time and develop eating problems.

This is also the age at which kids acquire high−risk habits. They dabble in drugs, alcohol, smoking, extreme sports, etc. Many of these acts are contrary to current norms and structures. They are known to flout conventions and take chances. They strive to convince themselves, their classmates, and their parents that they are adults by engaging in such actions.

When we think of teenage decision−making, many of us think of risky behavior: driving too fast, trying alcohol or drugs, or engaging in unprotected sex. What's the reason behind this type of risk−taking? The reality is that during the turbulent teen years, adolescents have difficulty making decisions in the same way adults do. This is because they are still developing their cognitive skills, like processing abstract concepts and weighing short−term gains against long−term repercussions. In other words, a teen's brain isn't yet wired to see farther into the future.

Diminished Executive Functioning : Adventurous behavior in teenagers is often linked to decreased executive functioning, which includes skills like planning and organizing tasks, considering multiple angles on an issue, and suppressing impulses.

Impulse Control : Another major factor in teenage decision−making is impulse control. As adolescents transition into adulthood, their prefrontal cortex, which helps with impulse control, isn't fully developed yet. Ultimately, adolescent decision−making can be a tricky process due to underdeveloped cognitive abilities and a lack of impulse control. Teenagers should be supported through difficult decisions by parents and teachers who provide guidance, as well as peers who urge safe choice−making if we want them to make sound decisions down the line.

Strategies to Support Healthy Adolescent Decision−Making

As adults, it can be hard to understand why teenagers make certain decisions. This can be especially difficult when we know their decisions could put them in harm’s way. The good news is that there are strategies you can use to help support healthy decision−making in adolescents based on an understanding of the role of cognitive development.

Promoting the Development of Autonomy and Responsibility:

Adolescence is a time for exploration and discovery as teens search for their place in the world. To do this effectively, teens need to learn how to make their own decisions and take responsibility for the consequences. To help promote autonomy, adults can provide assistance when needed but give adolescents opportunities to take the lead in decision−making.

Educating Adolescents about the Consequences

Teens often have difficulty thinking through long−term consequences when making decisions, so education on possible outcomes can do much to help them avoid dangerous situations.

Instilling Self−Confidence and Self−Efficacy

In order for adolescents to make healthy choices, they need to cultivate self−confidence and self−efficacy—beliefs about their own abilities—when it comes to making decisions. Adults should provide positive reinforcement for accomplishments and support teens through mistakes in order to create an environment where adolescents feel safe taking risks and believe they have the potential for success.

Importance of Autonomy and Structure: Finding the Right Balance

Adolescents thrive on autonomy and structure. On one end of the spectrum, an environment that lacks meaningful structure can create unnecessary risk when it comes to decision−making; on the other, too much structure can leave adolescents feeling restricted and stifled. Striking a balance between autonomy and structure is important for helping adolescents develop effective problem−solving skills and learn how to make decisions effectively.

This balance can be achieved by providing teens with opportunities to make decisions in a supportive environment that offers guidance without judgement. For example, allowing them to take part in discussions about their futures or creating safe spaces for them to explore their interests and goals can help teens understand the consequences of their decisions and practice making good ones.


All in all, understanding how adolescents make decisions is essential for the effective management of today's youth. As adolescents mature, their cognitive abilities develop, and they form their own beliefs and values. It is through these cognitive abilities that they can gain the knowledge and confidence needed to make responsible and ethical decisions.

Important factors that influence adolescent decision−making include factors such as social identity, family dynamics, peer pressure, and media influences.

Updated on: 07-Nov-2023


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