In a recent survey done at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, researchers found that those adolescents who mature early might be at a greater risk of depression.
Certainly, adolescence is an awkward time. There are biological changes that are occurring at a different pace than psychological and emotional ones. Knowing about these various stages of development can help a teen make sense of the challenges he or she might be experiencing. However, sometimes even talking about the changes doesn’t make adolescence easier. There is frequently an uncomfortable gap for teens between the process of physical maturity and social maturity. Furthermore, the research done at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign indicates that early maturity might make a teen’s experience even more difficult.
The study found that those teens who enter puberty ahead of their peers are more vulnerable to depression. In the United States, puberty is reached at around age 12.8 for girls and age 14 for boys. Of course, this age fluctuates with each teen. It can be as early as age 9 and as late as age 16 for girls, whereas puberty can begin in boys as early as age 11.
However, early maturation triggers an array of psychological, social, behavioral and interpersonal circumstances that can contribute to a teen’s poor psychological health. The study tracked the timing that teens went into puberty and the levels of depression in over 160 adolescents over a four-year period. Early in the study, the participants completed questionnaires that assessed their psychological health, interpersonal stressors, and coping behaviors. The study was published in Development and Psychopathology and is one of the first that links early puberty with depression in teens.
The study found that the link between early puberty and depression is more common among female adolescents. However, the results of the study also found that boys were also at risk as they move through adolescence. Yet, the timing for the onset of depression is different between the two genders. The study found that early maturing brought on depression much more quickly for females than for male adolescents. Levels of depression among early-maturing females rose at the beginning of the study and remained stable over the next three years.
Typically, as children grow older, the rates of depression and anxiety are the same regardless of gender. It is usually around 3 to 5 percent for both boys and girls alike. However, when children enter into adolescence, girls are more at risk for experiencing a mood disorder. In fact, female teens are twice as likely to exhibit signs and symptoms of mood disorders.
The male adolescents in the study who matured early were initially protected from depression, yet as they grew older, the symptoms of depression became evident. For instance, they experienced a negative self-image, anxiety, social concerns, and interpersonal stress.
Interestingly, other studies indicate that boys who mature earlier tend to have advantages. For instance, they are typically more popular, confident, better socially adjusted, and more successful in romantic relationships. They also tend to begin dating earlier and become sexually active at a younger age. However, they also tend to engage in risky behavior such as drug use. Girls who mature early also tend to use drugs and participate in other forms of risky behavior.
Certainly, there are discomforts that teens experience when they mature early. For instance, the biological changes begin to take place without the equivalent social, emotional, and psychological development. Adults who meet grown teens for the first time might expect more from them because of their physical size and treat them differently than if their biological changes were not evident. Furthermore, those teens who have gone through the sexual maturing process of puberty and who might be biologically ready for procreation and romantic partnership may not yet have the emotional or psychological to take on such responsibilities.
The information provided from this study can support parents, teachers, and mental health professionals who are working with depressed teens. By having a greater understanding of what might be contributing to depression, the adults in a teen’s life can be more supportive and aid in the treatment of depression.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (2014, November 19). Teens who mature early at greater risk of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141119142209.htm