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Does puberty affect concentration?

by Ines Wurbs

The thinking of our children changes a lot during puberty. Moreover, this improves the ability to concentrate. But we sometimes notice that concentration can also suffer during puberty. This is a result of a side effect of puberty. This article explains what happens and how to react to it.

What happens in the mind during puberty?

Puberty is a time when a lot of things happen to our young people. This begins with the physical changes and ends with the psychological development of the pubescent child. I’d like to talk more about cognitive development in adolescence, and puberty is the main phase here. This explanation should help us understand our roommate’s sometimes violent moods better, and to be able to put ourselves in their shoes again.

There are great developmental leaps during puberty. In particular, mental development is moving quickly. These leaps allow for big gains in cognitive performance:

Improvement of attention

Attention can be focused more easily on relevant information. Also, young people are better at adapting their attention to changing needs. Unfortunately, only on information that seems to be relevant to our children and not necessarily to us parents.

Increased control over inappropriate reactions

The so-called cognitive inhibition has been improved. This means that young people are better able to suppress unnecessary or inappropriate stimuli.’ Even learned reactions can be avoided in inappropriate situations. This leads to better attention and logical thinking.

More effective thinking strategies

The thinking strategies become more effective as a result. This greatly improves the storage, representation, and retrieval of information. The greater the knowledge, the easier it will be to use these thinking strategies.

Develop knowledge about thinking

Adolescents also develop knowledge about thinking (this is called metacognition). This allows teens to learn and develop new learning strategies. Problem-solving is also benefited from this approach.

Improved self-regulation

Additionally, cognitive self-regulation improves significantly. This means that from now on, it will be easier for them to make decisions and reflect on them. Don’t confuse this ability with the cognitive inhibition mentioned earlier. Self-regulation involves actively and continuously rethinking things. Cognitive inhibition suppresses impulses.

Increased thinking speed

The speed of thinking and processing capacity increase. This way, more information can be stored at the same time. This can be used to make more efficient thought and trading patterns.

It happens all the time that we don’t finish our thoughts before starting new ones. Additionally, this can lead to concentration disorders. Teenagers are often still stuck in the previous topics, both mentally and emotionally.

Why are children so difficult during puberty?

But the developments don’t come without consequences. These newly acquired abstract thinking skills require practice and are not fully reliable yet. Just as we can see with physical changes, it is also similar to cognitive abilities. At first, they are a bit clumsy with new possibilities, but with time and practice, they get better and better.

This practice or learning phase, in particular, seems strange to us adults. When we think of these leaps in development, we often think of the annoying behavior of teenagers. We don’t think as much about how things are changing. But these are important and useful in the long run for further development and preparing our adolescents for young adulthood.

The consequences of pubertal developmental steps

Our children are, to put it mildly, overwhelmed by these changes. The new skills offer an opportunity to improve one’s own situation, but these changes have an effect on the environment. The behavior should be explained by the following points:

Adolescents are self-centered and biased

The new ability to self-reflect is making adolescents much more self-absorbed and self-reflective. This also causes a kind of egocentrism, which leads to problems with perception.

Piaget assumes that young people have troubles distinguishing their own perspective from that of others. That would also explain why they have to learn to be different from others in this area first. Their focus is often still on their friends and their environment. 

According to Piaget’s theory, there are two biases that negatively affect the relationship between the self and the ‘imaginary audience.’ Teens think that they are the center of attention. This implies that they assume that they are the focus of other people’s attention, thoughts, and concerns. Not only with certain groups, such as parents or friends. This applies to everyone.

This can explain the attention given to external appearances: public criticism of our teens can also have serious effects on their relationship with them in this phase. Try to avoid these embarrassing situations. Of course, only as far as it is within your power. I know that it often eludes our knowledge what is embarrassing for our darlings and what isn’t.

Young people are very focused on themselves, and this centering takes up a lot of their attention. Getting a pimple, wearing the wrong clothes, or making a statement that makes you look bad can show a lot of thinking ability.

The pubescent is legendary!

There is a second bias called ‘personal legend.’ This is caused by the idea that they are the center of all thought. As a result, young people think they are very important. They think that they are special and unique. Yes, they are for us parents, but this is not usually the case outside the family.

This also explains the highs and lows of their emotions. Teenagers are very self-confident and believe that they can do anything better. They are often disappointed when something does not meet their high standards. Furthermore, they believe, as we all probably know, that they are so brilliant that no one can understand them. Especially not us as their parents. They literally accuse the ordinary. 

Today, we know that these distortions are a step in the right direction. This behavior is also a way of protecting oneself. Because they are focused on themselves, relationships can be kept.

It is important to emphasize your child’s uniqueness whenever possible and in appropriate situations. In these moments, try to include your own point of view. “I had the same problem when I was 16”. “At your age, I was also a huge fan of…”.

Idealize and criticizing is their superpower 

Yep, our teenagers are good at that. We owe that to their newly acquired ability to think about possibilities. A new world is opening up for them: the new world of the ideals. They are learning more and more about alternative ways of life, whether it be political, within the family, or moral. I think you can now see how it works. And of course, they are eager to explore these new paths.

Anyone who speaks with pubescent young people quickly finds themselves in an ideal image of things or even the world that he/she has constructed. Let’s think of musicians who are idolized until they fall. They also have ideal worldviews that don’t have injustices. This beautiful world that puts a smile on our faces as adults leads to the exact opposite.

We are often influenced by our realism, which has a much larger scope of information than the idealism of our teenagers. Even one’s own family is not immune to this idealization, and young people often criticize it.

Yes, it may be tedious, but it is important for growing into adults who can think for themselves. These are the ways they learn to recognize strengths and weaknesses. This is essential for building lasting relationships. Therefore, they can also contribute constructively to our society.

The only thing that will help here is to take things lightly. With the knowledge that it is important for our children to go through this developmental step, this is a little easier. Try to be patient in these situations. Think about the positive effects. And maybe even highlight the positive aspects of the criticism. This way, you will get a lot more cooperation from your pubescent and perhaps even a bit of insight from him/her. If you try to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of what is being criticized, it will be possible for your children to see that all societies and people have at least two sides of a coin.

Decision-making? No, thank you.

With all the advances, it may surprise you to learn that teenagers have a harder time making everyday decisions. They often don’t face them in a rational way.

They don’t consider the pros and cons, estimate the probabilities, or ignore them. They usually think of short-term goals instead of the big, desired goal. Often, they don’t learn from mistakes.

Unfortunately, they are still too inexperienced. They do not have enough important information to be able to assess the consequences.

You can read more about risk behavior and decisions at this link

Additionally, they find it difficult to choose their own goals. In many situations, there are competing goals. On one hand, they want to stay popular with their friends and be part of the group, but on the other hand, they have to stop doing things that would be necessary for this. For example, smoking or drinking rum.’ In these situations, young people often choose the goal that is closest to them. Even if they knew better, they still did it.

Teenagers are often overwhelmed by the number of offers they have. In other words, sometimes we simply ask too much of them. It is important to support our children in making the right decision. Our goal is to set a good example for them and help them to assess the consequences better. But we should not make decisions for them. This way, learning can’t succeed.

Conclusion about puberty

Puberty is a major step toward adulthood. Due to the new thinking processes and possibilities, this is a precarious situation for teenagers and those around them. But if we parents know why the teen is acting strangely, we can also respond to it correctly. Even if you think: “Please don’t be so stupid!” you should normally and in public keep quiet. As a result, our future young adults will come out of puberty stronger.

To get full attention, the information has to be interesting or presented in an interesting way. A sufficient amount of time and a clear separation of tasks can also help.

But much of the attentional capacity is taken up by the perceptual distortions of puberty. It is vital for young people to have opportunities to retreat and find quiet places, which will help them concentrate on their work.

As we’ve already said, parents still need to help their children make everyday decisions. Of course, this should also be considered in the school environment.

One more thing at the end: teenagers still need as much sleep as children. It takes 9–10 hours. And of course, getting enough sleep is important for being able to concentrate.

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