Ages 13+

Ages 13+


Critical Thinking Development: Ages 13 and Older

For children aged 13 and older, the development of critical thinking continues to build from the skills acquired and the challenges faced in the first two developmental stages. These skills must continue to be reinforced as the child matures.  


The four basic aspects of critical thinking we examined in the first part of this guide, concerning children aged five to nine, remain relevant, therefore. To review, these were:

  • Critical thinking based on arguing a point.

  • Developing self-esteem, the foundation of critical thinking.

  • Emotional management, a prerequisite for critical thinking.

  • The social norm of critical thinking.

We also saw new elements come into play between ages 10 and 12 in the acquisition of critical thinking and reasoning skills. These are likewise still important in considering the development of critical thinking in young teenagers:

  • The development of reasoning skills beyond argument.

  • Puberty and its implications in terms of interests, self-esteem, and emotional management.

  • The digital world, via gaming, the internet, and a burgeoning social or pseudo-social life (on social media targeted at young people).

To these concerns are added new set of factors come into play in later adolescence as the cognitive system matures and social life changes. These factors will hugely increase the critical potential of 13 to 15 year olds, while at the same time limiting it in certain respects. These factors are:

  • The development of formal logic, allowing for more and more complex and abstract lines of reasoning.

  • New social pressures, including heightened peer pressure and anxieties over social integration. The influences of groups and gangs, which tend to critique the established social order, can also lead to a conformity in attitudes and ways of thinking within the group.

  • Critical analysis of sources of information and the strengthening of interpretive skills.

  • Critical thinking in group projects, and as an element of citizenship and social progress.

Beginning at age 13, adolescents can begin to acquire and apply formal logical rules and processes. The rudimentary logic learned at previous stages can now be refined by teaching adolescents some more advanced logical notation and vocabulary, which are outlined in the coming sections. It is important to keep in mind, again, that critical thinking extends far beyond logic, offering tools to apply more broadly to arguments and information encountered in the everyday world.

In the teenage years, social pressures accelerate, and with the internet and social media, these pressures move faster and with more force than ever. As outlined in section two below, critical thinking can prove a valuable resource for teenagers to help cope with these pressures and resist the groupthink that easily emerges in social cliques both online and offline. Critical thinking can also play a role in helping young adults choose and pursue emerging goals, by constructing long-term plans and methods. Finally, critical thinking is an indispensable tool in helping young people understand and analyze the wealth of information sources now bombarding them.