Child and Adolescent Development: Developmental Milestones & Nature vs. Nurture

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  1. 0:06 Background
  2. 0:34 Principles of Cognitive Development
  3. 2:52 Nature vs. Nurture
  4. 8:09 Child and Adolescent Development
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Taught by

Melissa Hurst

How does a child develop cognitively? Which influences development more - genetics or the environment? How important are early experiences in the growth and cognitive development of a child? These are some of the major questions that guide the work of researchers in the field of educational psychology. This lesson will begin to address these questions by describing the basic principles that characterize child and adolescent development.


What are the driving forces behind the cognitive development of a child? Does it really matter if a child is given gender-specific toys to play with at an early age? What about teaching a child a foreign language before they can talk? Does this make a difference in their acquisition ability? These are some of the major questions that guide the work of researchers in the field of educational psychology. In this lesson, we will begin to explore how these question lead today's research of cognitive development.

Principles of Cognitive Development

Learning to understand shapes is an example of cognitive development
Stages of Child Development

There are four major principles of cognitive and linguistic development of children and adolescents.

The first principle is: development proceeds in somewhat orderly and predictable patterns. Development occurs through what theorists characterize as developmental milestones. A developmental milestone is defined as the appearance of a new, developmentally more advanced behavior. These milestones, typically, appear in a predictable order.

We can understand this principle of developmental milestones through a few examples. A physical developmental example of this principle is when a baby learns to roll over before it learns to crawl. A linguistic example is when children babble before they learn to say words. A cognitive developmental example is when a child can first only solve simple problems and talks through the problem out loud. Then, eventually, the child internalizes the problem solving process and begins to think abstractly, and outward speech becomes internal in the child's head.

The second principle of development deals with growth. Periods of rapid growth spurts may appear between periods of slower growth. The underlying idea behind this principle is that development is not constant. A learner might proceed through a developmental growth stage rapidly, such as in toddlerhood, versus a period of slower cognitive development, such as in adolescence.

The third principle explains different children develop at different rates. This principle focuses more on the learner as an individual versus an entire developmental period as the preceding principle did. Most theories provide an average age at which we might begin to see development.

The average age at which children may begin babbling behavior
Principles of Cognitive Development

This age is an approximation due to the individual differences among learners. Some learners hit developmental milestones early, while others may reach them later. This should not be the only indication of advanced cognitive development or developmental impairments, however.

Nature versus Nurture

The final principle of cognitive and linguistic development deals with the concepts of nature versus nurture and states development is continually affected by both nature and nurture. We will discuss these concepts in detail now.

Have you heard of the nature versus nurture debate in psychology? Psychologists have long debated whether it's nature that drives development among humans or nurture. Let's explain.

Nature (heredity) refers to traits which are inherited or genetic. It's a fact that most of the aspects of human development are initially driven (directly or indirectly) by the person's genetic makeup. Eye color, hair color, skin type and other physical characteristics are derived directly from our genetic makeup. Even one's temperament, or predisposition to respond, is driven by genetics.

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