While the idea of adolescent minds being fundamentally different from those of adults is not foreign to us, only in relatively recent history has the theory developed. In the early 1900's, a Swiss psychologist named Jean Piaget conducted research on a massive scale that sought to confirm or refute whether cognitive abilities in children and adolescents developed in a step-wise fashion. The end result of his work is a widely honored (yet sometimes refuted) series of cognitive "stages" that highlight important steps on the way to mature thinking.
The first of these stages, dubbed the "sensorimotor stage", is characterized by an inability to understand object permanence. In other words, all learning and thinking occurs only when directly interacting with the world. Once object permanence is recognized (usually after two years of life) the "preoperational stage" begins. Here, using mental representations of objects that exist but cannot be seen, children can think beyond the "here and now" and recognize the world as being larger than the immediately adjacent space. However, applying these thoughts to performing constructive and conservative task won't consistently begin until the "concrete operational stage". In this stage, between the ages of seven and eleven years old, children can use physical objects to recreate mental problems and act out situations, but have difficulty tackling hypothetical or purely mental conundrums. By the time they reach the "formal operations stage" as adolescents, those children can use hypotheses to explain outcomes, recognize cause-effect relationships, and act on that logic.
While certain elements of Piaget's findings have been refuted in recent years, I believe that developmental stages, especially in the realm of learning and critical thinking, are extremely important considerations for parents and teachers alike. Adapting preschool and kindergarten programs to foster the abilities we know children have and easing their transition to new ones could play a major role in developmental health. The same could hold true in the home, where parents and older siblings could monitor the health of the child by matching their behavior with Piaget's stages. Recognizing the difference between children and adults is crucially important to fair emotional treatment, and I'm confident that the class will agree when we arrive at Chapter 10 later this semester.