Sex 'n' drugs 'n' rock 'n' roll: the meaning and social consequences of pubertal timing

in European Journal of Endocrinology
Authors: A Waylen 1 and D Wolke 1
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  • 1 University of Bristol, Unit of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, Department of Community Based Medicine, 24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol, UK. andrea.waylen@bristol.ac.uk

This is a brief review of the normal changes in adolescent behaviour and the interplay between biology and social factors that occur at and around puberty, in an attempt to explain when this transition may become problematic The onset of puberty is a biological marker for an individual's transition from a non-reproductive to a reproductive state. Adolescence is a normal developmental transition associated with clearly visible physical changes, reorganization and pruning of neuronal circuits in the brain and the occurrence of new behaviours and interests. It is a time when new life tasks (orientation towards peers of the other sex, romantic and sexual involvement and mastering an educational career) need to be mastered. Parent-child conflict increases and becomes more intense as the adolescent struggles for more independence while still requiring support. These normal changes can become problematic if biological and social expectations diverge e.g. entering puberty very early or very late. While early pubertal onset in boys is likely to have beneficial effects, in girls precocious pubertal timing may have a negative impact on body-image, affect (or emotional well-being) and sex-role expectations. Other individual biological predispositions and genetic endowment may interact with social factors (e.g. peers, parenting style, neighbourhood) making adolescence either an adaptive or a challenging transition. There is a lack of sufficiently large longitudinal studies that have been able to study this interaction between genetics, biology and social environment on adolescent development. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort provides a unique opportunity to investigate the impact of pubertal timing on social behaviour. Planned assessments and concepts are outlined.

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