Many people confuse adolescence with puberty. According to the Encarta Encyclopedia, puberty is defined as the period in human life during which sexual reproduction organs mature. Puberty usually occurs in males between the ages of 13 and 16, and in females between 11 and 14.The onset of menstruation, on average, occurs at twelve and a half years in the United States, whereas 150 years ago the average age at menarche was sixteen. A lower age of menarche is associated with higher standards of living (Petersen, 1979). In less developed countries, the age of menarche is still high, but it is decreasing. Boys are also reaching reproductive maturity at an earlier age. One reason for the pubescent age starting earlier has been associated to higher levels of health care and nutrition (Brooks-Gunn, 1991). For most children puberty begins in Junior High, but for some it begins earlier. Does puberty affect interpersonal relationships? When puberty begins is there a chain reaction of events? My objective is to establish a link between puberty, self esteem and interpersonal relationships.
Studies show puberty affects the adolescents perspective of themselves. One-half of all boys and one-third of all girls report being dissatisfied with their appearance during adolescence (Rosenbaum, 1979). Each gender reacts differently to the changes during puberty. Early maturing boys tend to be more poised, relaxed, dominant, self-assured, and popular with their peers (Santrock, 1995). Many adolescent females tend to view their bodies negatively which may be due to the changing shape structure and distribution of body fat. Late and early maturing individuals have been studied, findings indicate this time to be additional negative stessor for the young person. Early maturing females have been found to have the most negative body image when compared with others their age at the time of menarche (Silbereisen, Peterson, Albrecht, and Kracke, 1989). In another study early maturing girls experienced significantly higher levels of psychological distress compared to their on time and late maturing age-mates. In line with prior studies of girls' delinquency, (Caspi, Lynam, Moffitt, & Silva, 1993: Magnusson, 1988), early maturing girls also experienced higher levels of distress at the tenth grade as reported by fathers, mothers, and adolescents when they were associated with mixed, rather than same sex friends during the seventh through ninth grades.
The onset of puberty also has effects on the social interactions of adolescents. Due to these appearance differences, early maturing females may suffer rejection by peers (Sibereisen et al., 1989). These females are in the minority in regard to physical appearance, which can lead to being viewed as odd and not fit in with the others. If rejection occurs, these females have a smaller social network of the same age peers to look to for support. In elementary school developmentally advanced girls tend to have less prestige among peers. They also have poorer self-images (Alsaker, 1992). Early maturing girls were more vulnerable to prior psychological problems, deviant peer pressure, and fathers' hostile feelings when compared to on-time and late maturing peers (Ge, Conger & Elder, 1996). In Junior High, female early development includes secondary sexual characteristics. This leads to a more positive body image, greater peer prestige, and adult approval (Brooks-Gunn & Warren,1988). Early maturing girls date sooner and are more independent and more active in school: they are also more often in trouble in school (Siegel, 1982).These females have a smaller social network of same age peers to look to for support. Instead of withdrawal from social contact, many females in a situation of this type begin to seek older, more mature group of friends (Lackovic-Grgin, Dekovic, and Opacic, 1994). The accumulation of older peers may lead these females to be more vulnerable to deviant behaviors and sexual pressures practiced by their new crowd. Siblbereisen et al. (1989) has stated that the practice of what would be viewed as problem behavior for these females may actually represent an attempt to match their behaviors with their physical appearance regardless of their chronological age. While their behaviors may seem inappropriate for their age, these females may just be trying to fit in with others who are as physically mature as they are. Exposure to these deviant behaviors and pressures at an earlier age then on time and late maturing females may be very detrimental to the early maturing females' identity and self esteem. Ge et al. (1996) has theorized that early maturing females may not have had the time to complete the necessary childhood developmental task before being moved into the adolescent stage by the onset of menarche. They have had less time to form a solid sense of self, which could cause difficulty in making wise present decisions as well as decisions for the future.
How does the adolescent identity evolve? Erik H. Erikson, a leading figure in the fields of human development and psychoanalysis, defined identity as a "subjective sense of an invigorating sameness and continuity," as well as a "sense of feeling active and alive." (Penuel,1995). The development if identity involves finding out who we are, what we are all about, and where we are headed in life. Self esteem is a central component of personality and identity (Clancy and Dollinger, 1993). It is a self-evaluation, or an evaluation of one's worth or self-acceptance (Tashakkori, Thompson, Wade, and Valente. 1990). Self-esteem is confidence in one's ability to think and to cope with the challenges of life and confidence in one's right to be happy (1993). According to Harper and Marshall (1991), it is common for self-esteem to temporarily decline in early adolescence. However, the temporary decline of adolescent self-esteem is not inevitable, in fact, in some cases, self-esteem remains stable or even increases during early adolescence (Tashakkori et al., 1990). Although self esteem has a tendency to fall for both sexes of teenagers, a number of studies have found that adolescent girls have lower self esteem than boys (Harper and Marshall, 1991). In a survey by the American Association of University Women, only 29% of the adolescent girls surveyed expressed self-satisfaction, while more than half of the boys felt good about themselves. According to Harper and Marshall (1991), society tends to promote masculine over feminine attributes. Therefore, a reasonable explanation for these findings has been that they reflect the way boys and girls learn to view the world and their place in it (Folkenberg, 1991). According to Harper and Marshall (1991), adolescents who admit to experiencing more serious problems tend to have poor self esteem. In fact, low adolescent self esteem is associated with a host of problems including drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders, depression, and suicide (1991). Adolescents have not experienced an improvement in health over the past 30 years, largely as a result of a new group of dangers called the "new morbidity" (Roghmann, 1981). These include such problems as accidents, suicide, homicide, substance abuse, sexual diseases (including AIDS), delinquency, and emotional difficulties. Therefore, a positive self esteem is indispensable to normal and healthy adolescent development because it provides resistance, strength, and a capacity for regeneration (Branden,1992).
To summarize, the affects of puberty on the adolescent is dramatic. It has an affect on every adolescent. Puberty tends to dramatically increase body awareness and concerns about physical appearance. Early onset of puberty has many effects on the body. This in turn affects how adolescents react socially. Social development is affected by the onset of puberty. Early maturation affects females in a negative way whereas males are affected positively. Studies have shown early maturing females become more social with older peers than same age peers. They also tend to have more trouble in school. Puberty has an affect on self esteem which in turn has an affect on their search for identity. Some affects of puberty are not gender specific, the adolescent self-esteem drops for both males and females. Interpersonal relationships are affected by the onset of puberty. In conclusion, puberty is the start of a series of changes. One change affecting the other. The major affects are in self-esteem and interpersonal relationships.
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