Adolescence is the interplay between biological, behavioural and social areas – starting with the biological that is puberty and ending by acquiring adult social roles and responsibilities. (Dahl, 2004). Puberty causes very rapid physical growth and development of multiple organ systems that includes brain development, sexual maturation and marked changes in the nervous system. This striking pace of brain development begins in adolescence and continues till the mid 20’s. This rapid maturation of the brain and body interacts with the social world of the persons resulting in rising individuation. A lot of social factors rise in this stage of life that can potentially impact the health and wellbeing of individuals such as relationships with peers, school and eventually the workplace.
Puberty is a period that is noted by substantial increases in psychological disorders and risky behaviors. Pubertal timing is a comparative concept which shows whether an individual’s maturation occurs at the same time as others who are of the same age and same sex. (Graber, Petersen, & Brooks-Gunn, 1996). Research has shown the importance of pubertal timing more specifically being off time in pubertal maturation has an effect on psychosocial well being rather than the experience of pubertal maturation itself Buchanan et al, (1992), Brooks-Gunn, (1987), Ge et al, (2001b), Petersen et al, (1991).
Early maturation has been related to development of emotional and behavioural problems. Research has shown that both adolescent girls and boys that developed puberty earlier than their peers exhibited more of both externalising and internalising behaviour problems (Kanwar, 2020). Further research has found that even girls and boys that developed puberty later than their peers were at risk of experiencing depressive symptoms during their early teenage years. (Natsuaki el al 2009).
The perception of the adolescents themselves regarding their pubertal timing in comparison to their peers also matters in respect to their mental health. Adolescents who perceived attaining puberty later than their peers were at a greater risk for body dissatisfaction (de Guzman & Nishina, 2014). The perception of pubertal timing by those around the adolescent like parents, teachers, peers and society at large also play a role in the adolescents mental health. Physical signs of development might be equated with cognitive development even though the adolescents brain is still developing leading to different assumptions and expectations from the adolescent. As a result boys and girls who look older or younger than their peers might be treated differently by others having implications for future mental health.
There is a plethora of research on pubertal timing and how it affects us mentally, physically and socially and how widely it varies from person to person. We still don’t know what exactly triggers the start of puberty, it almost feels as if one day your body decides to take you on a rollercoaster of change that you have little control over. Social support, patience and a non-judgemental environment can make a huge difference in this experience.