Adolescent Decision
Making - Part 2

Read part 1

Main Factors

There are many factors affecting adolescent decision making and they include cognitive, psychological, social, cultural and societal factors.


Cognitive influences have to do with mental processes and brainpower. There is a particular sequence in the normal development of the hardware used in decision making.

Until this is fully functioning, they can be very poor at assessing risk and overly optimistic about their ability to avoid threatening situations. They may be unable to accurately assess the probability of negative consequences.

Adolescent decision making can be limited to either/or choices instead of a range of options. Some of this may have to do with their intellectual capacity, and some of it has to do with a simple lack of experience.

Social and psychological

For adolescents, the social and psychological factors play a huge role. These include the influences of their family, their peers and even themselves, their own sense of self-esteem and self-worth.

The shift from dependence to independence is of particular importance here. Peers begin to replace the family as the main socializing agent. It is considered that identity formation occurs when the teenager disengages emotionally from the family and transfers the attachment to peers. Here, adolescent decision making begins to revolve around developing intimate friendships and 'sexual socialization'.

Peers are influential for several reasons.

  • They can punish others for non-compliance
  • They also have the ability to control the outcomes that other people desire
  • And frequently those who are admired have a certain power because other people want to be like them.

Add to that the fact that teenagers like to be with their peers because these activities are fun and entertaining. Family time may be dull and full of chores and rules. And if attempts at separation from the family seem unsuccessful to the teen, they may quickly turn to their peers for guidance and support.

Family vs peers

So adolescent decision making can be influenced by both groups. The choice of which group to go with may be determined by the teenager on the basis of which group is most competent in the subject. They are also careful not to be different, and therefore separated, from their peers.

Some studies have shown that adolescents use their peers when they have short-term, day-to-day, social decisions to make, and their parents for the longer-term, value based, ethical decisions.

They also often favour their own evidence over others when considering the likelihood of consequences. It is considered that they often have a hard time interpreting the meaning or credibility of information because they lack decision making skills.

This often results in behavior that is exasperating for adults!

  • They may argue for the sake of it, constantly finding fault in the adults position
  • They may seem incredibly self-centered,
  • They seem to jump to conclusions and
  • be overly dramatic
  • as well as constantly testing boundaries

Culture and society

Cultural and societal factors may be much less obvious factors in decision making in adolescents, but are influential nonetheless.

Socio-economic grouping, religion, ethnic background and cultural mores all play a part.

Read the first part of this article on how neural development affects decision making in adolescents...

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