2 September 2011
Brief puberty linked to behavioral issues
by George Atkinson
A new study by researchers at Penn State, Duke University and the University of California, Davis, suggests that faster progress through puberty may contribute to both the internalizing depression-type problems and the externalizing problems of acting out.
"Past work has examined the timing of puberty and shown the negative consequences of entering puberty at an early age, but there has been little work done to investigate the effects of tempo," said Penn State's Kristine Marceau, the study's primary author. "By [modeling] the timing and tempo of puberty in children, we present a much more comprehensive picture of what happens during adolescence and why behavior problems may ensue as a result of going through these changes."
The study took in information about breast and pubic hair development in girls and genital and pubic hair development in boys as assessed by nurses, as well as weight and height for both boys and girls. The data also included information on internalizing and externalizing behavior problems as reported by boys' and girls' parents or other caregivers, and self-reported risky sexual behaviors.
"We found that earlier timing for girls was related to a slew of behavior problems, and we also found that a faster tempo of development independently predicted those same sorts of problem behaviors," said Marceau. "Although timing and tempo both predicted behavior problems in girls, timing and tempo weren't related to each other. For boys, though, we found a strong relationship between timing and tempo. For example, we found that boys who have later timing combined with slower tempo exhibited the least amount of acting out and externalizing problems."
The study, appearing in the journal Developmental Psychology, also offers some theories as to why going through puberty at a faster rate can trigger behavioral problems. "The thought is that when the major changes of puberty are compressed into a shorter amount of time, adolescents don't have enough time to acclimate, so they're not emotionally or socially ready for all the changes that happen," suggests Marceau. "This is the explanation that originally was attributed solely to early timing, but we suggest that the same thing also is happening if the rate of puberty is compressed."
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Source: Penn State University