Psychological Meaning Of Pubertal Change Meaning of Pubertal Changes to Girls

The majority of studies on the psychological meaning of pubertal change were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s; more current research has not examined this issue. The meaning of menarche to girls has been examined the most extensively, as menarche is a salient and singular event (Brooks-Gunn & Petersen, 1983; Brooks-Gunn & Ruble, 1982; Greif & Ulman, 1982; Koff, Rierdan, & Sheingold, 1982). In studies conducted by Brooks-Gunn and Ruble (1982), girls were interviewed within two or three months of getting their periods for the first time. Twenty percent of girls reported only positive reactions, 20% reported only negative reactions, 20% reported ambivalent feelings, such as "felt same" or "felt funny," and the last 40% reported both positive and negative reactions. Girls who are early or unprepared for menarche reported more negative experiences than on-time ore prepared girls. Also, girls are at first reluctant to discuss menarche, except with their mothers. Girls only begin to share their experiences with their friends about 6 months after reaching menarche (Brooks-Gunn, 1987; Brooks-Gunn, Warren, Samelson, & Fox, 1986; Ruble & Brooks-Gunn, 1982).

Brooks-Gunn and colleagues have also examined the significance of breast and pubic hair development to adolescent girls in the fifth and sixth grades (Brooks-Gunn, 1984; Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988). The majority of girls (82%) reported that breast growth was more significant to them than pubic hair growth because "other people can tell." Girls also reported that mothers talked to them more about their breast than their pubic hair development. Onset of breast growth was associated with positive peer relationships, greater salience of sex roles linked with reproduction, and a positive body image, while the onset of pubic hair growth was not (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988). However, girls were likely to experience teasing by family members and boys about their breast development (Brooks-Gunn, Newman, Holderness, & Warren, 1994; Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988).

Girls tend to experience the normal height and weight changes of puberty negatively, particularly increases in weight and/or fat. More advanced pubertal development has been associated with less satisfaction with weight and to perceptions of being overweight for girls but not for boys (Tobin-Richards et al., 1990; Tyrka, Graber, & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Weight-related negative body image, weight dissatisfaction, and weight concerns were associated with increased depressive symptoms in a sample of early adolescent girls, even when controlling for objective weight status (Rierdan & Koff, 1997). It is likely that girls more often experience increased body size negatively due to the media images in Western cultures that value the thin physique of a prepubertal body over the mature body for girls (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Parker et al., 1995).

Meaning of Pubertal Changes to Boys

Very little is known about the meaning of pubertal changes for boys. In a small qualitative study, middle adolescent boys were interviewed about their reactions to their first ejaculation (spermarche), their preparedness for the event and sources of information, and the extent to which they discussed this with friends (Gaddis & Brooks-Gunn, 1985). Responses from boys were more positive than negative, although two-thirds of the boys reported being a little frightened, which is comparable to girls' reactions to menarche. The boys were very reluctant to discuss their experience of first ejaculation with parents or peers. This secrecy may stem in part from spermarche's link with masturbation. Although studies have not focused on boys' responses to increases in height and weight during puberty, these are most likely positive changes for boys. However, it has been suggested that media images of men are becoming as unrealistic and unattainable as media images of women (Leit, Gray, & Pope, 2002). The "pumped up" physique is becoming prevalent in the media, men with large shoulders and muscular abdomens. Although the effects of this portrayal of men in the media have not been studied, it could potentially be linked with body dissatisfaction, obsessive weight lifting, or steroid use in adolescent boys.


The research that links puberty with psychosocial adjustment involves two main categories of models—pubertal status and timing of puberty (Brooks-Gunn, Graber et al., 1994; Buchanan et al., 1992; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Archibald, 2005; Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren, in press). Pubertal status models refer to adolescents' degree of physical maturation and their hormone levels. Models that examine hormone levels are considered direct effect models, and those that measure physical change secondary to hormone changes are considered indirect effect models. The theory behind status models is that girls may experience negative reactions or receive negative feedback from others about their development when they reach certain stages, or they may feel that certain behaviors are expected with increasing physical development. Pubertal timing models suggest that being either an early maturer or out-of-synch (earlier or later) with one's peers is what affects depressive outcomes. Other types of models suggest that it is not pubertal development per se, but factors that interact with the challenges of pubertal development that lead to more adjustment problems (Nolen-Hoeksema & Girgus, 1994). For example, risk factors for depression may be more common in girls than in boys before adolescence, but depression results when these factors interact with the challenges specific to early adolescence, such as pubertal development.

In general, any model describing the relationship between pubertal and social events in adjustment outcomes should be mediated rather than direct, bidirectional rather than unidirectional, and interactive rather than additive (Brooks-Gunn, Graber et al., 1994), as Figure 16.3 illustrates. A framework with three potential mediational processes between the hormonal changes of puberty and short-term effects on affective states is illustrated. The first mediational pathway shows the effect that timing of secondary sexual characteristic development links hormonal changes and affective states. The second mediational pathway highlights the effect of social experiences, including perceptions of puberty,

- Internal states

- Reactivity

- Central nervous system aspects of behavior and emotions



Social experiences and perceptions of puberty

Secondary sex characteristics

Secondary sex characteristics

Adjustment outcomes

Figure 16.3 Theoretical framework model linking puberty with adjustment outcomes in girls. Adapted from Brooks-Gunn, J., Graber, J. A., & Paikoff, R. L., "Studying links between hormones and negative affect: Models and measures," Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4, 469-486. Copyright 1994, reprinted with permission from Blackwell Publishing.

on affective states; this effect stems partly from hormonal changes and is also a response to changes in physical development during puberty. The third mediational link refers to internal states, such as central nervous system changes that stem from the hormonal changes, and individual differences in arousal and physiological reactivity. Figure 16.3 illustrates that some of the pathways are bidirectional, which means that girls' social experiences and behaviors may have effects on the hormonal systems, which may affect the timing of pubertal development. The following sections review the empirical evidence associated with the different aspects of this theoretical framework. More studies on links between puberty and adjustment have been conducted with girls than with boys. Also, studies have more often examined internalizing behaviors than externalizing behaviors.

Keep Your Weight In Check During The Holidays

Keep Your Weight In Check During The Holidays

A time for giving and receiving, getting closer with the ones we love and marking the end of another year and all the eating also. We eat because the food is yummy and plentiful but we don't usually count calories at this time of year. This book will help you do just this.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment