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A Guide to Normal Development
in Adolescents Ages 12-14

As children move into adolescence, they enter a time of intense cognitive, emotional, and social changes. Often parents wonder if their children’s behavior is “normal.” Although there are variations among teens, adolescents ages 12 to 14 tend to exhibit signs of having attained similar cognitive, physical/emotional, and social milestones.

Cognitive Development

During early adolescence, teens begin to develop greater capacity for more abstract thought and logical reasoning. Teens in this stage generally exhibit the following signs of cognitive development:

  • Greater ability to articulate needs and emotions

  • Capacity to follow more complex directions

  • Ability to think about immediate causes and effects of an action or event


Teens aged 12 to 14 are still usually in the first stages of cognitive development. These changes are often less noticeable than emotional and social ones, but they are no less significant in a child’s development.

Physical and Emotional Changes

Children in their early teens often feel “caught in the middle” between childhood and adulthood. Hormonal fluctuations correspond with increases in these typical teen behaviors:

  • Moodiness toward, and withdrawal from, family members

  • Concern about being normal and fitting in

  • Regression to childish behaviors

  • Greater desire for privacy, often resulting from rapid physical changes


Teens may develop at vastly different rates between the ages of 12 and 14. These physical changes-or lack thereof-are frequently a source of stress for adolescents. Thus physical and emotional factors are strongly interrelated during early adolescence.

Social Transformations

The importance of social relationships gradually takes on greater importance during adolescence. Children in early adolescence are just beginning to reach beyond their immediate families to find meaningful relationships, which is evidenced in several ways:

  • Beginning to consider friendships with members of the opposite sex

  • Greater emphasis on friendship and corresponding drop in attention toward parents and family relationships

  • Search for new people to love, beyond immediate family

  • Occasional experimentation with cigarettes, marijuana, or alcohol

  • Rule and limit testing with parents and other adults


The shift in focus, from parents to peers, can make the early adolescent years a difficult period for parents. Children in this stage begin to exert their independence and form their own identities.

Early Adolescents at School and Home

At school, the early adolescent will exhibit a greater ability to work, with less constant supervision. However, students in this age group often struggle with organizational skills like writing down homework assignments and remembering important details. This is connected with their propensity for thinking of the present and immediate future. While early adolescents might show budding interest in career options, they tend to focus on these choices in abstract terms. The home life of the early adolescent can shift dramatically, as the child becomes cognitively aware of parents’ flaws and begins to develop closer relationships with peers. This withdrawal from family life can be compounded by the early adolescent’s desire for greater privacy and autonomy. Early adolescence is a period of latent changes, as the child moves into the mind and body of an adult. These changes represent a shift toward independence and abstract thought.

The information is provided for general reference purposes. It does not constitute medical or other professional advice and should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your child and adolescent psychiatrist or other physician.

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