Contextual Models

Another proposed pathway linking pubertal changes with adjustment takes social factors such as familial support and peer relations into account. The biological and social changes of puberty may vary systematically with the family, peer, school, or neighborhood contexts in which they occur (Petersen & Taylor, 1980). Different contexts may amplify or attenuate the effects of pubertal factors on adjustment. Factors that have been shown to amplify negative effects of pubertal timing include association with deviant peers, adverse parenting, living in dangerous neighborhoods, or negative life events in general (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1989; Ge, Conger, Lorenz, & Simons, 1994). Conversely, positive factors such as parental support and warmth have been found to buffer the potential stressful effects of the pubertal transition (Ge et al., 1994; Petersen, Sargiani, & Kennedy, 1991).

A study by Brooks-Gunn and Warren (1985) illustrates how effects of puberty are mediated by social context. The study examined effects of menarcheal timing in a sample of ballet dancer and nondancer girls aged 14 to 18. Girls who were 1.2 years earlier or later than the mean menarcheal age of 12.6 to 12.8 years for American White adolescents (Damon, Damon, Reed, & Valadian, 1969) were classified as early or late maturers. In the nondance school sample, 11% of the girls were early, 59% were on time, and 57% were late. In contrast, 6% of the dance students were early, 38% on time, and 57% late. Another difference between groups was that dancers weighed less and were leaner than nondancers, and dancers expressed more concern about their weight. Since so few dancers were early, only on-time and late maturers were compared across social context. On-time dancers had higher psychopathology, perfection, and bulimia scores and lower body image scores than the late maturing dancers; while these effects were not found for the nondancers. The different self-standards of dancers, particularly in regards to maintaining a low body weight, seem to account for the sample differences. Additional analyses with the same sample showed that effects of physical maturation on dating differed between dancers and nondancers (Gargiulo, Attie, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren, 1987). Postmenarcheal dancer girls had higher dating scores than premenarcheal dancer girls, while menar-cheal status was not associated with dating behavior in the nondance sample. Although speculative, it is possible that menarche may mean something different to the dancer, or that the postmenarcheal dancer may identify less with the ideals of the dance world and thus begin to date. The results of these studies illustrate a goodness of fit between the requirements of a social context and a person's physical and behavioral characteristics.


Puberty is considered the most salient developmental milestone during adolescence, involving pervasive physical and psychological changes. An accumulating body of research in the past few decades has documented how certain aspects of the pubertal transition have effects on adolescents' psychosocial adjustment. In general, these studies have more often focused on girls than boys. The three main dimensions of puberty studied have been hormone changes, secondary sexual characteristic development and menarche, and timing of the pubertal transition compared to one's peers. Although the majority of children adapt well to pubertal changes and do not experience mental health problems during or after the transition (e.g., Offer, 1987), the research indicates that pubertal changes, as well as interactions between pubertal changes and social factors, contribute to adjustment difficulties. One of the most consistent findings has been that early-maturing girls tend to experience more adjustment difficulties than their on-time and late-maturing peers. For boys, findings are more mixed, although early- and late-maturers, compared to their on-time peers, seem to be most at risk. Inconsistencies in the literature most likely stem from different ways of measuring and classifying pubertal development,

R2 = .37; F(5, 90) = 9.89, p < .0001; Mediated Pathway via Arousal

Figure 16.6 Path model showing significant mediated pathway between pubertal timing and depressive affect, via emotional arousal. On the left side of the model, the ß values were calculated separately for each pathway for each potential mediator. The ß coefficients on the right side of the model (shown in bold type) were calculated with all variables (predictors and mediators) entered simultaneously into the model; there are two ß coefficients for pubertal timing to depressive affect. From Graber, Brooks-Gunn, & Warren (in press).

The Polarity Path

The Polarity Path

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