Puberty has always been a time of stress and emotional turmoil for adolescents and their parents. And scientists have long recognized that kids who start puberty before their peers are particularly likely to have trouble getting along with other children and with adults. New research suggests, though, that those difficulties can be traced back to even earlier ages, indicating that early puberty may not be the root cause.
Previously, researchers thought that negative behavior associated with early puberty — such as difficulty playing with other kids and participating in normal school activities — showed up only after puberty’s onset. But a new study from Australian researchers has found that children who had early-onset puberty showed evidence of such problems when they were 4 or 5 years old. Boys in this group had also shown other behavior problems, such as being overactive, losing their temper and preferring to play alone from a young age.
“The association between early-onset puberty and poor mental health appears to result from processes under way well before the onset of puberty,” the researchers conclude in a paper published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The paper challenges previous assumptions that puberty triggers behavior changes, says Jay Giedd, a psychiatrist at the National Institute of Mental Health, who was not involved in the study. But he adds that the study raises new questions about what factors are influencing this behavior and whether early psychosocial and behavioral difficulties might somehow trigger early puberty.
Source: Washington Post