Psychological Adjustment

Adolescents are acutely aware of the rapid changes taking place in their bodies. How they react to such changes greatly affects how they evaluate themselves; it is in this manner that physical and psychological development are related.

Physical changes may cause psychological discomfort. Adolescents are particularly concerned about whether they are the "right" shape or size and whether they measure up to the "ideal" adolescent. Rapid growth, awkwardness, acne, voice changes, menarche, and other developments may produce emotional distress. Therefore, it is not surprising that the timing of physical and sexual maturity may have an important influence on psychosocial adjustment. Adolescents are generally concerned about anything that sets them apart from their peers. Being either the first or last to go through puberty can cause considerable self-consciousness.

In general, boys who mature early have a distinct advantage over those who mature late. They tend to be more poised, easygoing, and good-natured. They are taller, heavier, and more muscular than other boys their age. They are also more likely to excel in sports, achieve greater popularity, and become school leaders. The ideal form for men in American society, as represented by the media, is that of the postpubescent male. Therefore, early entry into puberty draws boys closer to the male "ideal." In contrast, late-maturing boys not only are smaller and less well developed than others in their age group but also are not as interested in dating. When they do become interested in intimacy, they often lack social skills; they are more likely to feel inadequate, anxious, and self-conscious. These personality characteristics tend to persist into early adulthood, although they may become less marked and often disappear as time goes by.

For girls, early maturation appears to be a mixed blessing. Girls who mature early grow taller, develop breasts, and go through menarche as much as six years before some of their peers. Their larger size and more adult phy sique may make them feel conspicuous and awkward, while at the same time they may be popular with boys and experience more dating opportunities. They also may have to deal with parents and other caregivers who have reacted to their early sexual development by being overly restrictive. The beauty ideal for women in American society, as portrayed by the media, is that of a prepubescent female. Changes in body fat related to puberty thus may lead to body image problems, as entry into puberty increases the distance from the beauty ideal just as girls become most interested in it. As with boys, the consequences of early and late maturation decrease over time. However, either early or late start of menarche seems significantly more difficult to deal with than if more typical.

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