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During adolescence, several psychical, cognitive, identity, and social developments occur. One of the major changes that occur during this transformation from childhood into adulthood is the expression of sexual characteristics. Sexual characteristics begin to emerge when the adolescent begins to experience puberty.
Puberty is defined as the sexual maturing in late childhood related to a wide range of emotional, behavioral, and social changes (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Puberty results when pulsatile secretion of gonnadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) is initiated and the hypothalamo-pituitary-gonadal axis is activated. These hormones stimulate other endocrine glands to increase their hormone production, which include the gonads-testes in males and the ovaries in females, which now increase the production of both masculinizing hormones and feminizing hormones. These hormones are produced in both males and females, yet at different ratios. Puberty often begins in females between the ages of eight and thirteen and in boys between the ages of nine and fourteen. However, it has also been shown that African American girls reach puberty sooner than any other girl, with puberty starting as early as six (Carel & Leger, 2008).
Puberty corresponds with the adolescent growth spurt, which is a rapid increase in size accompanied by changes in the shape and proportions of the body. Over an approximate four year span, different parts of the body will grow. Facial features, such as the ears and nose, will grow before the skull. The hands, arms, and feet will grow before the torso. There can even be asymmetries in growth between the two sides of the body, with one breast or testicle growing before the other (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).
During puberty, girls will gain around thirty-eighty pounds on average. The growth spurt will begin and end about two years earlier than for boys. Girls will experience breast growth and greater pelvic spread. Boys will gain on average around forty-two pounds. Their heart and lungs will increase more than in girls, as will their bone mass and muscular tissue. Both males and females will gain around ten inches in height.
A popular subject to discuss in regards to puberty is the behavioral changes (adolescent moodiness) experienced. G. Stanley Hall referred to the full complement of difficult behaviors as the storm and stress of adolescence. The storm and stress of adolescence include characteristics such as increase conflict, moodiness, negative affect, and risky behavior. Moodiness and negative affect, including depressed moods, are increased by hormones, but only if combined by other negative life events. Girls are more susceptible to depressed moods than boys. This is apparently because of differences in stress and methods of coping with stress. Girls are also more likely than boys to deal with stress using a ruminative coping style, which increases the risk of depression (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).
Early and late puberty can affect the psychological well-being of adolescence. The reasons most depend on factors other than hormones. Girls begin puberty before boys, and early maturing girls are bigger than most other children. Girls that are larger and heavier tend to be more unhappy with their body, especially in a culture that prides itself on sliminess in females. She is also more likely to be teased and rejected by other girls her age. Additionally, early maturing girls also tend to have more behavioral problems, especially if they get involved with older boys (Palmert & Dunkel, 2012).
Early maturing boys are the opposite. They seem to be less moody and less likely to exhibit depressed mood. It is actually late maturing boys who seem to be more affected by stress and storm. Being larger and stronger than other boys gives early-maturing boys an edge in socially approved male activities, whereas late maturing boys are at a distinct disadvantage. Generally, early maturing boys are more confident than late, more popular, and more likely to be leaders among their peers. Late maturing boys are more likely to be socially awkward, insecure, and variable in moods (Palmert & Dunkel, 2012).
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