Psychological Meaning Of Pubertal Change Meaning of Pubertal Changes to Girls

The majority of studies on the psychological meaning of pubertal change were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s; more current research has not examined this issue. The meaning of menarche to girls has been examined the most extensively, as menarche is a salient and singular event (Brooks-Gunn & Petersen, 1983; Brooks-Gunn & Ruble, 1982; Greif & Ulman, 1982; Koff, Rierdan, & Sheingold, 1982). In studies conducted by Brooks-Gunn and Ruble (1982), girls were interviewed within two or three months of getting their periods for the first time. Twenty percent of girls reported only positive reactions, 20% reported only negative reactions, 20% reported ambivalent feelings, such as "felt same" or "felt funny," and the last 40% reported both positive and negative reactions. Girls who are early or unprepared for menarche reported more negative experiences than on-time ore prepared girls. Also, girls are at first reluctant to discuss menarche, except with their mothers. Girls only begin to share their experiences with their friends about 6 months after reaching menarche (Brooks-Gunn, 1987; Brooks-Gunn, Warren, Samelson, & Fox, 1986; Ruble & Brooks-Gunn, 1982).

Brooks-Gunn and colleagues have also examined the significance of breast and pubic hair development to adolescent girls in the fifth and sixth grades (Brooks-Gunn, 1984; Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988). The majority of girls (82%) reported that breast growth was more significant to them than pubic hair growth because "other people can tell." Girls also reported that mothers talked to them more about their breast than their pubic hair development. Onset of breast growth was associated with positive peer relationships, greater salience of sex roles linked with reproduction, and a positive body image, while the onset of pubic hair growth was not (Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988). However, girls were likely to experience teasing by family members and boys about their breast development (Brooks-Gunn, Newman, Holderness, & Warren, 1994; Brooks-Gunn & Warren, 1988).

Girls tend to experience the normal height and weight changes of puberty negatively, particularly increases in weight and/or fat. More advanced pubertal development has been associated with less satisfaction with weight and to perceptions of being overweight for girls but not for boys (Tobin-Richards et al., 1990; Tyrka, Graber, & Brooks-Gunn, 2000). Weight-related negative body image, weight dissatisfaction, and weight concerns were associated with increased depressive symptoms in a sample of early adolescent girls, even when controlling for objective weight status (Rierdan & Koff, 1997). It is likely that girls more often experience increased body size negatively due to the media images in Western cultures that value the thin physique of a prepubertal body over the mature body for girls (Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Parker et al., 1995).

Meaning of Pubertal Changes to Boys

Very little is known about the meaning of pubertal changes for boys. In a small qualitative study, middle adolescent boys were interviewed about their reactions to their first ejaculation (spermarche), their preparedness for the event and sources of information, and the extent to which they discussed this with friends (Gaddis & Brooks-Gunn, 1985). Responses from boys were more positive than negative, although two-thirds of the boys reported being a little frightened, which is comparable to girls' reactions to menarche. The boys were very reluctant to discuss their experience of first ejaculation with parents or peers. This secrecy may stem in part from spermarche's link with masturbation. Although studies have not focused on boys' responses to increases in height and weight during puberty, these are most likely positive changes for boys. However, it has been suggested that media images of men are becoming as unrealistic and unattainable as media images of women (Leit, Gray, & Pope, 2002). The "pumped up" physique is becoming prevalent in the media, men with large shoulders and muscular abdomens. Although the effects of this portrayal of men in the media have not been studied, it could potentially be linked with body dissatisfaction, obsessive weight lifting, or steroid use in adolescent boys.

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  • Hannele
    What is the meaning of pubertal changes?
    2 years ago

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