Puberty is the psychological and social transition between childhood and adulthood. It is marked by the sexual maturation of the body.
Pubertal development occurs in two phases:
- Adrenarche is the earliest sign of puberty is which typically occurs between 6-9 years of age. It begins when the adrenal glands release androgens (sex hormones). These hormones continue to increase until the early 20s and are responsible for the development of secondary sex characteristics such as pubic hair growth, body odor, acne, etc.
- Gonadarche happens earlier in females, between 9-14 years of age, compared to onset in males between 10-15 years of age. The brain releases pubertal hormones to stimulate the ovaries and testes to produce sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone). These hormones bring about reproductive maturity and secondary sex characteristics such as breast growth, menstruation, and ovulation in females, while testicular development and voice changes in males.
Why does puberty matter?
17% of the world’s population is between 10-19 years of age, which means that 1.2 billion people around the globe are in their adolescence. Their emerging capabilities and health are the foundation for future economic and social rise.
Puberty and adolescence
Adolescence is characterized by the emergence of a differentiated sense of self and self-evaluative processes, especially in the social domain. Adolescence is a time of risk and resilience when both positive and negative lifetime trajectories unfold. Over the last two decades, extensive research has been conducted using MRI to investigate anatomical and functional changes in the brain during adolescence.
Puberty and Independence
Adolescents (10-19 years) experience marked changes in social, emotional, and cognitive abilities, which enables them to attain adult roles and responsibilities. Along with educational and vocational achievement, this period notices a dependent child progress to a relatively independent young adult.
Puberty and psychological development
Studies examining the relationship between puberty and psychological brain development have largely focused on two aspects:
- Affective processes determining motivational and emotional tendencies in a person.
- Cognitive processes that enable individuals to understand and interpret social situations. It is noted that affective and cognitive processes work together to support social functioning.
Puberty is a period of life in which individuality changes profoundly. Recent neuroimaging research has demonstrated that activity in brain regions associated with self-processing, including the medial prefrontal cortex, changes between early adolescence and adulthood. These studies indicate that neurocognitive development might contribute to behavioral phenomena during puberty, such as heightened self-consciousness and susceptibility to peer influence.
The transition from childhood to adulthood is also characterized by psychological changes in self-consciousness and awareness of the surroundings. In the past, it has been demonstrated that various regions of the human brain undergo development during adolescence and beyond. Some of these regions are involved in social cognitive function in adults.
Among the most crucial cognitive abilities is the ability of recognizing and interpreting other people’s feelings, intentions, and desires. Advanced perspective-taking starts at puberty and continues to be refined throughout adolescence, supported by the development of many areas of the brain.
An insight from mamahood
Puberty is a biological, behavioral, and social phenomenon encompassing increased growth, metabolic rate, and the appearance of secondary sex characteristics. A greater understanding of these associations is crucial to make sense of the psychosocial changes occurring during adolescence, such as heightened social sensitivity and self-awareness, increased parental conflict and social influences on decision-making.