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Early Puberty in Girls Linked To Higher Risk Of Problem Behaviors
Girls who start puberty early may be at
particular risk for problem behaviors as teenagers, a new study suggests-
(Reuters Health) .
But parents who are alert to the risk might be
able to step in and prevent the problems, the researchers say.
The risk might be related to the girls’
friendships. In their study, girls whose bodies started to change before age 11
were more likely later on to have best friends who misbehave.
But, the researchers found, most of these
harmful friendships weren’t yet formed by age 11. So while the girls are still
young, this might be a time for parents to monitor them closely, support them,
and prevent these dangerous friendships from getting started.
“Peers are increasingly influential from
childhood through adolescence, and girls who mature earlier than their peers
may be drawn to more delinquent friends for a variety of reasons, such as
wanting to fit in, being teased by other classmates, or not having the
emotional development or social competence to match their advanced physical
development,” Erika Westling told Reuters Health.
Westling researches personality and health at
the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene but was not involved in the new study.
“As this research shows, early maturers appear
to be more vulnerable to peer influences than non-early maturers, so they may
not be able to resist peer pressure as effectively,” Westling added.
Sylvie Mrug, a psychologist at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham, and her colleagues interviewed 2,600 girls at age 11,
13 and 16 years old, and their parents. The girls reported on their own
behavior issues, those of their best friend, and any incidences of physical or
Out of every 100 girls in the study, 16 had
“matured early,” that is, they got their periods for the first time before age
11. (The average age for first period to occur is 12.)
As expected, girls whose best friends had
behavior problems were very likely to have similar behavior problems
And girls who entered puberty early had a
stronger link between best friend’s problems and their own problems, which
suggests more vulnerability to peer influences, the authors write in
Mrug and her colleagues accounted for parental
education, household income, family structure and ethnicity. They were not
able, however, to account for parental conflict or parenting behaviors, which
might also be important in determining girls’ behavior, Mrug said.
“For girls, early puberty is associated with
more emotional problems, such as depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem, as
well as more problem behaviors, such as delinquency, aggression, substance use,
and risky sexual behavior,” Mrug said. “For boys the results are less
consistent, but early puberty has also been linked with more problem behaviors.”
These results might help researchers
understand how to prevent some of these negative associations, Mrug said.
Lars Lien, of the Norwegian Centre for
Addiction Research in Oslo, who has also studied this issue, told Reuters
Health that the link to badly-behaving peers is interesting and perhaps very
important, but it can’t be completely trusted unless other studies can
duplicate the results.
Although this study did not identify who the
girls’ best friends were, in previous studies, more deviant friendships for
early maturing girls have been with older boys.
It is not certain that preventing problematic
friendships, if that were possible, would make a difference in a girl’s
behavior, Lien said.
“But from common sense and having daughters
myself I think that although many parents blame bad peers, I’m not sure if we
have any evidence to say that other friends would change a trajectory,” he
But Mrug argues that parents actually do have
a lot of influence over their kids’ friend choices.
Parents can expose their kids to different
types of peers via play dates, extracurricular activities and church youth
groups. Parents also shape their kids’ values and behaviors, she said.
“Parental monitoring plays a big role in
adolescence - knowing what the child does when she is away from parents,
knowing who her friends are and what they do together, and the best foundation
for effective monitoring is an affectionate, supportive parent-child
relationship combined with consistent rules and consequences,” Mrug said.
“Clear rules and expectations, with
appropriate positive and negative consequences for the adolescent’s behavior
are also critical, together with open communication about values and why some
behaviors are unacceptable,” she said.
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