Early puberty in girls has been found to negatively affect these teenagers health in areas such as mood disorders, substance abuse, adolescent pregnancy, and cancers of the reproductive system. Given these findings, it is critical to understand why certain adolescents are at increased risk for early puberty in order to develop effective early intervention and prevention strategies for high-risk youths.
New research shows that greater support from mothers and fathers, as well as less marital conflict and depression (as reported by fathers), can lead to later onset of puberty. The findings, from researchers at the University of Arizona and the University of WisconsinMadison, are published in the November/December 2007 issue of the journal Child Development.
The researchers sought to test and extend a 1991 model (developed by researcher Jay Belsky and colleagues) of the role of family ecology in speeding up or slowing down puberty in girls. According to Belskys theory, childrens early experiences affect how they mature, with certain stressors in and around the family creating conditions that speed puberty as well as sexual activity. These stressors include marital conflict, negativity and coercion in parent-child relationships, and lack of support between parents and children. According to the theory, children adaptively adjust their sexual development in response to the conditions in which they live.
To test this theory, the researchers investigated the effects of stressors on the timing of childrens development by examining families of 227 preschool children over a period of time. Specifically, they looked at the families socioeconomic conditions, marital conflict, parental depression, and supportive versus coercive parenting, through interviews with both mothers and fathers. The study followed the children through middle school, testing the first hormonal changes of pubertythe awakening of the adrenal glandsin 120 of the children (73 or whom were
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Society for Research in Child Development