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Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Through most of childhood, people grow at a fairly steady pace – about 5–10 cm and 2–3 kg per annum. But with the beginnings of adolescence, most individuals undergo another radical change, often called a growth spurt. In girls, this typically occurs at around age 10 to 13; in boys, it occurs between 12 and 15. Growth is quite rapid compared to earlier in the lifespan – a girl may add around 9 kg in a year, and boys around 11 kg (Tanner, 1962). The transformations of puberty – as the developing body commences the changes that allow it in turn to contribute to the reproductive process – are almost as radical. Secondary sexual characteristics A particularly important physical change during puberty is the emergence of secondary sexual characteristics. In girls, this means an increase in subcutaneous fat and rounding of the body, the beginnings of breasts and, towards the end of the spurt, pubic hair and the menarche (the first period). In boys, the penis, testes and scrotum begin to enlarge, pubic hair appears, the voice begins to deepen, and muscles grow and strengthen. At around 13 to 14, most boys experience ejaculations or nocturnal emissions (wet dreams). Underlying all of these external changes, there are important hormonal developments, due to the increased production of estrogen (in girls) and androgen (in boys). Young people are now heading towards their mature size and form, but the pace of development varies markedly across individuals. These developmental changes are important from a psychological perspective, because they affect the young person’s sense of self and relations with others (Brooks-Gunn & Paikoff, 1992; Durkin, 1995). Unlike the tadpole, human adolescents are very much consciously aware of the changes they are undergoing. The emergence of the secondary sexual characteristics prompts them to think of themselves as young adults, and to change their appearance and activities accordingly.

The effects of variation
Variations in the pace of development lead to complex outcomes. In some respects, those who mature early tend to have an advantage in that they are seen – and treated – as more adult-like. Some young people, especially males, gain from this, developing greater popularity and confidence that can endure into adult life ( Jones & Bayley, 1950). In contrast, late matures may experience some insecurities as they compare themselves with their peers who are ahead of them in the prized achievement of growing up (Alsaker, 1992). But there can be drawbacks to early maturation, too. For example, some early maturing boys are drawn into activities (like truancy or delinquency) that get them into trouble with parents, teachers and other authorities (Ge et al., 2001). Some early maturing girls report higher levels of psychosomatic distress during their teens. This is perhaps because their earlier involvement in activities such as dating and other people’s expectations of them to behave as adults lead to pressures they are not yet equipped to handle (Ge, Conger & Elder, 1996; Graber et al., 1997).

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