Puberty: Its Role in Development

Susman, E. J., & Dorn, L.D. (2009). Puberty: Its role in development. In R.M. Lerner & L. Steinberg (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychology (p.116-151). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

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Main Points

  • Historical and theoretical perspective on puberty
  • Puberty changes affect physical morphological characteristics
  • Understanding the neuroendocrinology of puberty and the impact on psychological development
  • Puberty can negatively affect health issues


  1. Introduction: Puberty Biological and Psychological Processes (p.116)
    1. Adolescence is not equal to puberty
    2. Puberty determines the beginning of adolescent reproductive competence
    3. Puberty commemorates brain changes and development (activation of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH))
    4. The purpose of the study is the interconnection of brain changes and psychological development in puberty
    5. The study of the literature to determine the connection of puberty with the general pubertal timing and psychological changes
  2. Historical Perspective on the Basis of Theories on Puberty and Psychological Development (p.115-118)
    1. Changes that occur during rigorous maturation lead to “storm and stress”
    2. Sigmund Freud defines puberty as the first phase of adulthood, corresponding to the genital phase
    3. Anna Freud highlights the defense mechanisms of adolescents as a way to deal with the results of pubertal changing
    4. In the early 1980s, scientists Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, Richard M. Lerner, David Magnusson, Ann Petersen, Lawrence Steinberg, Elizabeth Susman, and others developed the phoenix paradigm, reflecting changes in biological and psychological characteristics
    5. Dynamic integration as an approach reflecting pubertal changes
  3. Neuroendocrine Changes, Timing, Physical Change (p.118-130)
    1. Neuroendocrine Changes in the Brain
      1. Reactivation of GnRH with the help of the GnRH pulse generator as an endocrine change is the main one to determine the onset and course of puberty
      2. It is unknown what is the trigger that renews the GnRH pulses
      3. Different requirements of reproduction ahead of gender differences
      4. Triggers —­ different reproduction requirements determine adolescent sex differences
    2. Physical Changes and Timing of Puberty
      1. Physical changes: linear growth of the body, the development of primary sexual characteristics along with secondary signs
      2. Faster maturation of girls for 18–24 months
      3. Pubertal stages vary due to individual hormone levels
      4. The three main characteristics of puberty – tempo, consistency, timing
      5. Weight gain often characterizes the onset of puberty in both sexes — obesity in North America and other regions
      6. Environmental chemicals affect puberty earlier timing in animals; empirical data for people do not exist
    3. Pubertal Status and Pubertal Timing
      1. Changes in the level of androgen and estrogen can lead to depression during puberty
      2. Adolescents with a deviation in maturity may experience increased stress
      3. Published studies based on acceleration and the life history perspectives show support for the hypotheses regarding the timing of puberty or menarche and family structure or processes
    4. Family Impact on Puberty Timing
      1. Draper & Harpending (1982): Early childhood environment influences reproductive competence
      2. Features of the family structure and family processes as an essential factor in changes in puberty
      3. Genetics — an alternative approach to understanding the relationship of family relationships and the puberty timing difference
  4. Health Issues in Puberty (p.141-144)
    1. Key health issue: a proven link between obesity and changes during puberty
    2. The build-up of bone tissue depends on the timing of puberty
    3. Daytime sleepiness as a result of puberty — inadequate sleep at night
    4. Hormones affect changes in sleep habits and push for possible sleep problems
  5. Conclusions on Puberty Development and Future Research (p.144-147)
    1. The achievements of recent decades have opened up the possibility of understanding the neuroendocrine processes of puberty
    2. Diverse approaches to the study of psychological changes during puberty
    3. Measurements of pubertal progression as a tool for assessing and predicting changes in puberty
    4. The future study of the mechanisms that influence physical and psychological development during puberty is necessary for a better understanding of the development of adolescents.
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