There is some evidence of brain under development in adolescents, those from 13 through as high as 23 or 24, that is linked to judgment, decision making, risk appetite, etc., mostly in an unfavourable way as it relates to properly evaluating a flight.

See: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-teen-brain-still-under-construction/index.shtml

Does this suggest that CFIs training an adolescent should approach the training differently than how they train adults? Are additional training and scrutiny indicated in order to minimize the effects of an under developed brain in this population group? Or does doing so somehow cause some level of unwarranted discriminating practices to an adolescent training for his pilot certificates?


2 Answers 2


No, that article doesn't suggest a different training approach with teenagers.

What it does suggest is that the teenage brain has potentially more neuroplasticity, and that "the capacity of a person to learn will never be greater than during adolescence." It does point out a possible factor to watch out for in young trainees: sleep deprivation, but it doesn't say that the effects of sleep deprivation are different than in older trainees, only that they may be more likely to stay up late.

The article mentions "the importance of creating an environment in which teens can explore and experiment while helping them avoid behavior that is destructive to themselves and others". Flight instruction seems to me to be exactly such an environment.

Instructors already should be adjusting their training approach to the individual. (Transport Canada - Flight Instructor Guide: Individual Differences). The advice given is based on symptoms, and there is no indication that a teenage slow learner (for example) should be treated differently than an adult slow learner. There is a column in that guide relating to "immature" trainees, which might apply more frequently to adolescents, but unless a student is showing immaturity, there is no need to treat them so.

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    $\begingroup$ Certainly you would not want to treat a student as if he was immature if he is exhibiting maturity, but would it be prudent for a CFI to examine more closely a teenage student's maturity level simply because he comes from that population? For example, testing their decision making to get past the answers the student thinks the CFI wants to hear? $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2014 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidEspina It seems like you should do that with any student. Just be ready for the fact that some students will be poorer at it than others and, yes, a lot of those who are poorer at it will be in the age group you referenced. $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ Agree, Jay, but would you increase scrutiny in this age group? Or just keep it the same across the board? $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2014 at 18:30
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidEspina I would keep it the same across the board. It's becomes pretty automatic to look out for these individual differences no matter the population that the student comes from. $\endgroup$
    – user2168
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidEspina That is.. I would try to keep it the same across the board. I don't know if my unconscious biases would result in some extra scrutiny, though. $\endgroup$
    – user2168
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 18:40

As an instructor at a fairly large university, I see lots of students in the age group you mention. Most of the time, no adjustment to the training course is necessary. There will always be outliers, of course, but in general university students in the 18-23 age group have no problems keeping up with the training curriculum.

Anecdotally, the students that I've personally had the most trouble with aren't the ones that are younger, they're the ones that think they already know what they need to know. Which is just another way of saying that almost anyone with an sincere desire to learn can be taught to become a safe aviator.

  • $\begingroup$ By trouble, do you mean their stick and rudder abilities or decision-making, risk management cognitive abilities?? $\endgroup$ Commented May 19, 2014 at 20:18
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    $\begingroup$ @david - cognitive. Stick and rudder skills are generally the easy bit. $\endgroup$
    – Steve V.
    Commented May 19, 2014 at 20:50

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