Contextual Models

Another proposed pathway linking pubertal changes with adjustment takes social factors such as familial support and peer relations into account. The biological and social changes of puberty may vary systematically with the family, peer, school, or neighborhood contexts in which they occur (Petersen & Taylor, 1980). Different contexts may amplify or attenuate the effects of pubertal factors on adjustment. Factors that have been shown to amplify negative effects of pubertal timing include association with deviant peers, adverse parenting, living in dangerous neighborhoods, or negative life events in general (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1989; Ge, Conger, Lorenz, & Simons, 1994). Conversely, positive factors such as parental support and warmth have been found to buffer the potential stressful effects of the pubertal transition (Ge et al., 1994; Petersen, Sargiani, & Kennedy, 1991).

A study by Brooks-Gunn and Warren (1985) illustrates how effects of puberty are mediated by social context. The study examined effects of menarcheal timing in a sample of ballet dancer and nondancer girls aged 14 to 18. Girls who were 1.2 years earlier or later than the mean menarcheal age of 12.6 to 12.8 years for American White adolescents (Damon, Damon, Reed, & Valadian, 1969) were classified as early or late maturers. In the nondance school sample, 11% of the girls were early, 59% were on time, and 57% were late. In contrast, 6% of the dance students were early, 38% on time, and 57% late. Another difference between groups was that dancers weighed less and were leaner than nondancers, and dancers expressed more concern about their weight. Since so few dancers were early, only on-time and late maturers were compared across social context. On-time dancers had higher psychopathology, perfection, and bulimia scores and lower body image scores than the late maturing dancers; while these effects were not found for the nondancers. The different self-standards of dancers, particularly in regards to maintaining a low body weight, seem to account for the sample differences. Additional analyses with the same sample showed that effects of physical maturation on dating differed between dancers and nondancers (Gargiulo, Attie, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren, 1987). Postmenarcheal dancer girls had higher dating scores than premenarcheal dancer girls, while menar-cheal status was not associated with dating behavior in the nondance sample. Although speculative, it is possible that menarche may mean something different to the dancer, or that the postmenarcheal dancer may identify less with the ideals of the dance world and thus begin to date. The results of these studies illustrate a goodness of fit between the requirements of a social context and a person's physical and behavioral characteristics.

FUTURE DIRECTIONS/CONCLUSIONS

Puberty is considered the most salient developmental milestone during adolescence, involving pervasive physical and psychological changes. An accumulating body of research in the past few decades has documented how certain aspects of the pubertal transition have effects on adolescents' psychosocial adjustment. In general, these studies have more often focused on girls than boys. The three main dimensions of puberty studied have been hormone changes, secondary sexual characteristic development and menarche, and timing of the pubertal transition compared to one's peers. Although the majority of children adapt well to pubertal changes and do not experience mental health problems during or after the transition (e.g., Offer, 1987), the research indicates that pubertal changes, as well as interactions between pubertal changes and social factors, contribute to adjustment difficulties. One of the most consistent findings has been that early-maturing girls tend to experience more adjustment difficulties than their on-time and late-maturing peers. For boys, findings are more mixed, although early- and late-maturers, compared to their on-time peers, seem to be most at risk. Inconsistencies in the literature most likely stem from different ways of measuring and classifying pubertal development,

R2 = .37; F(5, 90) = 9.89, p < .0001; Mediated Pathway via Arousal

Figure 16.6 Path model showing significant mediated pathway between pubertal timing and depressive affect, via emotional arousal. On the left side of the model, the ß values were calculated separately for each pathway for each potential mediator. The ß coefficients on the right side of the model (shown in bold type) were calculated with all variables (predictors and mediators) entered simultaneously into the model; there are two ß coefficients for pubertal timing to depressive affect. From Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren (in press).

High DHEAS Low DHEAS

Figure 16.7 The interaction of high DHEAS levels (as an Index of High Adrenal Activity) and early maturation on girls' depressive affect. From J. A. Graber, J. Brooks-Gunn, J., & A. B. Archibald, "Links between puberty and internalizing and externalizing behavior in girls: Moving from demonstrating effects to identifying pathways, in D. M. Stoff & E. J. Susman (Eds.), Developmental psychobiology of aggression. Copyright 2005, Cambridge University Press.

High DHEAS Low DHEAS

Figure 16.7 The interaction of high DHEAS levels (as an Index of High Adrenal Activity) and early maturation on girls' depressive affect. From J. A. Graber, J. Brooks-Gunn, J., & A. B. Archibald, "Links between puberty and internalizing and externalizing behavior in girls: Moving from demonstrating effects to identifying pathways, in D. M. Stoff & E. J. Susman (Eds.), Developmental psychobiology of aggression. Copyright 2005, Cambridge University Press.

different ages at time of outcome assessment, and different conceptual frameworks (i.e., deviance of stage termination hypotheses).

Although the past few decades have been marked by many pioneering studies on the effects of the pubertal transition on adjustment, there are a few key areas to focus on for future research studies. First, as outlined in this chapter, puberty is associated with a multitude of significant biological, psychological, and social changes. Studies that assess interactions between changes in these multiple

R2 = .41; F(5, 90)= 11.60, p <.0001; Mediated Pathway via Life Events

Figure 16.8 Path model for estradiol category to aggression, via negative life events. On the left side of the model, the p values were calculated separately from estradiol category to aggression and to each potential mediator. The p coefficients on the right side of the model (shown in bold type) were calculated with all variables (predictors and mediators) entered simultaneously into the model; there are two P coefficients for estradiol category to aggression. From Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren (in press).

domains represent an area of promising future research. Second, the majority of studies on the psychosocial implications of pubertal development have included White samples of children. Especially considering the noted differences between age of pubertal onset and age of menarche for White and African American girls, pubertal research is needed with more ethnically and socioeconomically diverse samples. Third, studies on pubertal development have tended to begin when adolescents are already experiencing the changes of mid- to late puberty. Examining the earliest changes of puberty, such as the initial increases of luteinizing hormone, would give a more complete picture of how adolescents adjust to the entry into puberty. Additionally, some studies have indicated that rate of pubertal development and duration of pubertal timing status may have effects on adjustment outcomes (e.g., Archibald et al., 2004; Dick et al., 2000). Future studies need to further explore the effects of rate and duration of pubertal development on adjustment. Fourth, there is a need for longitudinal studies that follow children throughout the span of pubertal development and beyond, in order to better understand the longer-term effects of the pubertal transition on adjustment. Most studies from the past few decades have been cross-sectional or short-term, so it is not clear whether the effects of puberty persist over time. Finally, there has been a disconnect on the literature on factors affecting pubertal onset and pubertal factors associated with adjustment outcomes (see Graber, 2003). A future direction for research would be to jointly explore the precursors of puberty and the outcomes of puberty, in order to determine whether processes associated with onset of puberty also play a role in whether puberty influences subsequent adjustment outcomes.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Preparation of this chapter was supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Research Network on Child and Family Well-Being, the Marx Family Foundation, and the William T. Grant Foundation.

NOTE

1. During early infancy, it may be the case that the gonad-ostat is not completely mature, meaning it is insensitive to the presence of gonadal sex steroids (Fechner, 2003). Maturation of the gonadostat could be described as increased sensitivity to the negative feedback of gonadal sex steroids, which inhibits the GnRH pulse activator during childhood. The mechanism by which the GnRH pulse activator t is "dis-inhibited" in order for puberty to commence is not clear.

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