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"If everyone knows a thing, itís almost for certain it aint so."

Adolescence has been assumed to be a time of "storm and stress". This is one of those areas where research has shown what everyone knows to be true to not necessarily be so. Yes, SOME adolescents rebel ? I should know, I was one of them. My oldest daughter was practically out of control for a while. I was a single parent, and, at thirteen and fourteen, every time I would go out of town she would throw a party with drinking, fights and God only knows what else. Yes, of course I had someone stay at the house with her, but somehow things always got out of hand. All this seems to support the assertion that all adolescents do have problems, yes?
Well, actually, yes and no.

SOME adolescents have problems, but this seems to hinge on a few other factors than just being an adolescent. These include:

  • Other problems in the home (my husband had just died, for example, and I was trying to figure how to pay all of the bills for the hospital, doctors, funeral, etc.),
  • Lack of parental supervision (I was very frequently out of town or working late),
  • Multiple stresses (just as she entered puberty, my husband died, we moved to a new house and I began working longer hours).
  • Singe parent households (this may be related to lack of supervision, as it is difficult for one parent to provide as much supervision as two),
  • Permissive or authoritarian parenting styles (click here to return to the page where we discussed parenting styles).
Bandura, in a study which included only boys, found that adolescence was NOT typically a stressful time for boys, that the parents of this non-clinical sample gave them gradually more freedom as they progressed from early to late adolescence. The boys reported generally good and respectful relationships toward their parents, although they admitted that they didn't tell their parents everything. Bandura concluded that adolescence, as a period of psychological stress, had been overrated as a result of the samples used in many studies. If you only looked at people coming into a child guidance clinic, as Anna Freud principally did, for example, then, of course you are going to find that most people have problems. On the other hand, research on girls tends to show a different path in adolescence, and one which, I think, should be very disturbing to parents and educators. A number of books, most notably Schoolgirls and Reviving Ophelia, have noted how, during adolescence, girls self-esteem begins to drop, and never again reaches a level equal to boys. Girls particularly become disenchanted with their body image. The NORMAL development during puberty is for girls to gain fat, making them LESS in keeping with the ideal promoted in our society. (As your textbook notes, the average model is significantly taller and thinner than a normal woman.) On the other hand, as boys get taller during puberty, they get  CLOSER to the ideal for males.
Cartoon girl sitting by phone I am truly, truly sorry that I cannot find the citation for this study, because one of the articles I read in the last few years that made the biggest impression on me was a study of girls as they progressed from childhood through adolescence. In a series of interviews across the years, the authors noted that, in contrast to the ten- and eleven-year-old girls who were willing to "Speak one's mind with all one's heart."  the older girls learned that they were to be quiet, watch what they said. The older girls had learned that neither boys nor teachers nor their families appreciated girls who spoke out too much, who were too assertive and demanding that their own needs be met and ideas be heard. A couple of books which deal with these issues are Schoolgirls and Reviving Ophelia: Saving the selves of adolescent girls. I have mentioned them twice now because I strongly encourage you to read them. Some of the issues dealt with include the way girls and boys are treated differently in schools by teachers, for example, how teachers will call on boys more frequently, punish girls much more often for talking, and how sexual harassment is tolerated. The worst part of all of this, to me, is that much of this inequality is perpetuated by women - teachers, other girls, etc.
    I have seen this happen in my oldest daughter, and it saddens me. She is a very intelligent, attractive, talented young lady. Yet, as she went through junior high and high school, I think she lost some of her self. She became more concerned with how she looked, what was cool, what other people thought. Perhaps this would have happened to the same extent if she was a boy, but the research suggests that it would not have. There is a reason that many of the books on the developmental psychology of women speak of 'voice'. There is Carol Gilligan's book, In a different voice, the book Women's ways of knowing, by Belenkey et al. , which talks about "women's silence". What girls lose as they enter adolescence, I think, is exactly that courage to "speak one's mind with all one's heart". They lose themselves as Mary Pipher (the author of Reviving Ophelia) says. Did anyone ever ask Bandura WHY he only studied boys?

What  girls lose as they enter adolescence




There are plenty of books that cover this well, so I only want to emphasize a few main points and terms:

Adolescence and puberty are not the same thing. Over the years, I have noticed that many students confuse these terms. Adolescence is a period between childhood and adulthood. Specific age ranges given by different texts vary, from "the second decade of life", i.e., from 11 to 20, to the teenage years (13 to 19) and some authors saying adolescence may extend through the mid-twenties, especially for people who stay in school. Adolescence is marked by numerous psychological, social and physical developments. Puberty, in contrast, refers to the PHYSICAL changes which occur during adolescence, including

  • changes in secondary sex characteristics (such as growth of breasts and pubic hair), which differ between males and females but are not directly related to reproduction (that's why they are called secondary),
  • changes in primary sex characteristics (such as the beginning of ovulation in females and production of viable sperm in males),
  • the adolescent growth spurt, during which both boys and girls grow several inches and gain about 10 pounds a year, usually over a two-year period. The average boy goes through this growth spurt about two years later than the average girl. Despite the fact that adolescents are growing faster than they have since they were two years old, relatively little attention is paid to education at this age regarding nutrition, and the average adolescent's diet consists of a large proportion of junk food, fast food, saturated fats, and just in general the type of eating patterns which are opposite a healthy diet.
Menarche is the first menstrual period. Ovulation is the release of mature ovum.
It is usually a year or more after the onset of menarche before a girl is consistently fertile. THIS IS AN IMPORTANT FACT TO KNOW AND PASS ON TO YOUR STUDENTS. Why? I have had three (!) students (including one at the tribal college) tell me that they began having sex shortly after menarche (around 13-14), did not get pregnant and assumed they were sterile, so never bothered using birth control, because,
              "I thought I couldn't get pregnant." 
All three became pregnant by age seventeen. Two had children and one had had an abortion.

Maturing either earlier or later than one's peers can affect a person socially and psychologically. This may be positive, e.g., in the case of boys who are better at sports because they have a larger proportion of muscle mass, are bigger and taller and thus less likely to be bullied. It can also be negative, as witnessed by a female student in one of my classes who stated,

"You never know how cruel other kids can be and how much their teasing can hurt unless you have had to start wearing a bra in the third grade."


If you cannot talk to your child about menstruation...did you know that there is actually a MUSEUM of menstruation and women's health? No, I did not make that up. Another fact, there were, as of April, 1999 25,973 web pages on menstruation in the English language.

Helping your child survive puberty is a series of practical articles provided by the Family Education Network, a parenting site on the web supported by advertising. Sort of a web equivalent of a cable TV channel on family issues.

I have more than once had students complain to my in class-- why do we have to talk about this stuff (sex)? The answer is, because the professions which most people who take developmental psychology will eventually enter, such as teaching, nursing, medicine and psychology, usually require interaction with children and adolescents. The information young people get about sex has to come from somewhere, and, the more knowledgeable and comfortable you are discussing sex, the better information you will be able to give them. If your answer is - but they should learn that at home -- well, based on current statistics, the odds are 90--95% that you will some day have children of your own -- if you don't already. My advice is to start discussing sex and related topics with your children at a young age - as soon as they begin asking questions, give them answers. If you first start discussing sex with your son or daughter at age fifteen, it may already be too late, plus, I would think it would be horribly uncomfortable for both of you.

Go to ASSIGNMENT # 8 --- Talking to your kids about sex Go to the next lesson on development of self-image


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