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Growing Up Young: The Relationship Between Childhood Stress and Coping with Early Puberty

NCJ Number
Journal of Early Adolescence Volume: 27 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2007 Pages: 509-544
Kristina Pinto
Date Published
November 2007
36 pages
This study examined the role of prior childhood adversity in the pubertal development of 16 African-American and White girls, with "adversity" defined as the experience of stressful circumstances or psychological states that influence the experience of later life events, relationships, and self-perception.
A majority of the girls reported such adversity, and they felt that it either trivialized the problems typically ascribed to early puberty or forced them to assume female roles and responsibilities typically delayed until adulthood. In cases where a girl had a history of severe childhood stress, such as bullying or ostracism, the prior adversity functioned as a stressor that preceded the stress commonly linked with puberty. Childhood stress that leads to the development of coping behaviors may serve girls well in coping more effectively with the changes and anxieties associated with puberty. This finding suggests that puberty and maturation is rarely a linear chronology, as it depends on distinctive physical and socioemotional stages that vary according to childhood experiences and the coping behavior developed in dealing with childhood adversity. Biological age and socioemotional age often do not coincide according to a fixed pattern of development. They will vary across individuals. Further research is needed in order to assess how the early development of social gender identity influences pubertal development and the entrance into young adulthood. The study surveyed a sample of 55 11th and 12th grade girls from 3 Pennsylvania high schools and identified a subsample of 16 volunteers for interviews. They qualified as early developers on a survey of pubertal recollections that pertained to early physical development. The research was designed to range in interpersonal contact from minimal (scaled survey questions) to deep (interviews). 1 table, 64 references, and appended interview protocol


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