Timing and Tempo of Puberty Linked to Behaviour Problems, Study Finds

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Flickr: Tomi Tapio

Children who go through puberty at a faster rate are more likely to act out and suffer from anxiety and depression, according to a study released by Penn State, Duke University and the University of California, Davis.

Primary care providers, teachers and parents should look for two things when trying to make connections about behavioral problems in kids, says the study. Not only should they look at the timing of puberty but also the tempo of puberty, meaning how fast or slow kids go through these changes.

For girls, the results suggest that timing and tempo weren’t directly related. For boys, however, a strong relationship exists between the two factors.

“Children are extremely sensitive to how fast or slow other kids are going through puberty, and that may contribute to both the internalizing depression-type problems or the externalizing problems of acting out,” said Elizabeth Susman, a biobehavioral health professor and the research team’s leader.

They found that boys who go through puberty later timing and who have a  slower tempo exhibited the least amount of acting out and externalizing problems.

Kristine Marceau, the study’s primary author, said this is the first study to examine the effects of puberty and tempo. It examined data from 364 white boys and 373 white girls that had been collected as part of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. The final results appear in the journal Developmental Psychology in the September 2011 issue.

Susman also plans to examine the effects of tempo of puberty on later women’s health problems. She said she is concerned about the relationship between early puberty and later women’s health problems.

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