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Related To Maturation

Adolescence is a period of rapid physical growth with accompanying changes in genital and accessory sexual structures, fat distribution, pelvic and shoulder girdle configuration, and glandular activity. The period encompasses the years ten to sixteen. There are significant fluctuations in timing and extent of changes during any given interval, but there are no substantial alterations in sequence. In the period five to ten years, there is relatively gradual anatomic and physiologic change. By contrast, there is a marked spurt in height of girls between the ages of ten and eleven, with this occurring somewhat later in boys. Certain bodily changes are closely related to pubescence and precede functional sexual maturation by one to two years. Girls in our culture experience the menarche (first menstrual period), on the average, between twelve and thirteen years; while in boys, the first seminal emission occurs at approximately thirteen to fourteen. In the male the penis, testes, and scrotum enlarge and pubic hair appears along with axillary, facial, and other body hair. In the female, the labia majora and minora enlarge, as do introital mucosal structures; breasts and areolar tissues mature, and both pubic and axillary hair appear. There are whole organism changes which accompany physical growth and sexual maturation. During this period, for example, there is increased food craving and intake, an increase in muscular energy with an actual doubling of strength from the period ten to sixteen years, an increase in pubertal fat in both boys and girls, with a widening of the pelvis in girls and a broadening of the shoulders in boys. Changes in facial contour occur during this period due particularly to acceleration in growth of the upper segments of the face. Early in pubertal adolescence, an increase in blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate occurs. Somewhat later, there is a slowing and steadying of these autonomic indices. Accompanying glandular changes are described below. There are also changes in voice timbre, a heightened activity of sebaceous and sweat glands, increased susceptibility to skin infections, excessive skin oiliness or acne.

Gesell and his associates emphasize shift in tensional outlets during this period, with the following proposed as relatively characteristic for each age interval: year eleven, general body overflow with stamping, sniffling, and grimacing; year twelve, jiggling; year thirteen, scalp scratching; year fifteen, pressurized fidgeting, cuticle picking, and knuckle snapping. This group occasionally tends to overemphasize behavioral mannerisms which are generally considered to be exquisitely susceptible to social influences.

The total N.17-ketosteroids excreted in the 24-hour urine rise steadily in both girls and boys from the age of six or seven. Estrogenic levels show a sharp increase in girls at ten to eleven, shortly preceding the first menstrual period, with no notable change in the corresponding male levels. Prepubertal boys and girls do not excrete detectable amounts of gonadotrophic hormones. There is an occasional small increase in urinary gonadotrophins in postpubertal girls and boys. Small amounts usually are excreted by the thirteenth or fourteenth year. After the fourteenth year, the level increases sharply. The steady increase in total N.17-ketosteroid excretion from the age of six or seven is maintained until the eighth or ninth year, at which time there is a sharp rise. There is a very gradual rise in excreted 11- and 17-oxysteroids to adult values during adolescence. It should be recalled that the oxysteroids are derived primarily from the adrenal gland which does not generally show sharp pubertal shifts in activity. On the other hand, the total neutral 17-ketosteroids reflect, in part, adrenal activity and, in male, gonadal activity.

Unpublished laboratory studies in rodents by Gordon and Nurnberger suggest that during the rapid phases of bodily development prior to sexual maturation, structural proteins, for example, those of muscle and visceral organs, are not utilized to provide a significant source of emergency fuel in the form of mobilized free amino acids. With maturity, the capacity of the organism to utilize its own structural proteins for such emergency fuel may be very substantially increased. This resource may stabilize the mature organism against intercurrent demands for energy which cannot be completely satisfied by such ready sources as stored glycogen and circulating blood sugar and fatty acids. Whether or not these shifts actually occur in the maturing human is not yet determined.

Electrophysiologic Changes

During the adolescent period, there is a relatively rapid maturation of electrocortical activity, as revealed in electroencephalographic tracings. Unstable, slow, high voltage activity of childhood is progressively replaced by the stable, high voltage, 8 to 14 per second rhythms of the temporal, parietal, and occipital areas and the lower voltage, higher frequency activities characteristic of the frontal areas of brain in the mature adult. Gross abnormalities in electrophysiologic activity are extremely difficult to discriminate from normal variance in the brain waves of the child or preadolescent. Differentiations of pathologic from normal responses become increasingly clear, particularly during the later phases of adolescence.

PSYCHOLOGIC MATURATION IN ADOLESCENCE The normal adolescent, in negotiating the route from dependent childhood to autonomous maturity, faces certain general problems. He must begin to resolve the problem of achieving independence from parents. He must acquire an enduring confidence in his productive and creative potentials to prepare for occupational adjustment and economic independence. He must prepare the ground for mature and biologically meaningful sexual expressions through increasing social heterosexual relationships. Finally, he must begin to discipline his impulsive inclinations in order to channel his motivational energies toward adult, goal-directed activity. Certain cultural anthropologists stress the special difficulties of adolescents created by our traditional Judeo-Christian mores with respect to sexual outlets. They insist that where very early marriage or, in fact, free early heterosexual expression is permitted, as, for example, in Samoa, the Trobrianders, and certain areas of India, the typical occidental adolescent tendency to mental conflicts, seclusiveness, exaggerated emotional expressions, and rebellion against parents is not particularly noticeable. They also urge that where the phenomena of puberty are clearly accorded public recognition in a context of ritualistic puberty rites, as, for example, in the Arunta Andamanese, social clumsiness, shyness, and vacillating self-evaluation are not conspicuous. These cultural traditions are thought to make clear the social, physical, and physiologic implications of the changes in puberty. They therefore suggest that the greatest part of maladjustment during adolescence can be adequately referred to unusual, nonphysiologic, or equivocal cultural demands. This position requires clarification. It ignores the cultural bonuses which many feel accrue from repressive attitudes and sublimating activities in our own occidental culture.

What are the outstanding psychologic reactions to the characteristic physical changes of adolescence? Increasing emotional instability, a tendency to social awkwardness, an upsurge of perplexing sexual interests, and broadening of altruistic preoccupations, perhaps on a reaction-formation basis, are emphasized.

There may be mild or accentuated self-consciousness over physical changes, particularly in early adolescence. The most devastating reactions, of course, occur among those at the extremes of the normal distribution. Among common extreme reactions are guilt, embarrassment, shame, disgust, and inferiority feelings. Postpubertal girls generally rank higher than boys of the same relative developmental stage in heterosexual interests, in investment in physical appearance and adornment, and in the intensity of worries over relatives, themselves, and their family conflicts. With girls, there is more daydreaming and, particularly after the menarche, greater avoidance of physical exertion. Similar responses occur in adolescent boys with a contrary spurt of interest in competitive sports. The rise in sexual interest begins shortly before puberty and follows more closely the course of hormonal shifts than it does the actual maturation of genital and accessory organs.

The polymorphous perverse outlets for sexual activity, commonly seen in earlier childhood, are re-explored during puberty. Transitory homosexual outlets are common, while narcissistic exhibitionism, as well as autoerotic behaviors, appear again but in altered social and psychologic context. Wide fluctuations in the self-concept and in the masculine-feminine stereotype occur during adolescence. In interests and problem areas, the male differs from the female more extremely in late adolescence than at any other time. Masculine standards and acceptance by male associates are profoundly important to adolescent boys and, oddly enough, the same criteria determine the degree of acceptance of girls in boys groups. The exaggerated and often chaotic response repertoires which are experimented with to reconcile greater and more intimately recognized urges to personal gratification with social demands, painful uncertainties over personal identity and role assumption with precocious expectations contribute, in part, to the sharp rise in crime rate, suicide, hysterical dissociative reactions (denial mechanisms) and neurotic and psychosomatic disorders during adolescence. Of special interest, from the standpoint of oral-regressive behaviors in girls, are clearly modulated fluctuations between oral indulgence with resultant obesity, on one hand, and anorexia with asthenia on the other. Occasion-ally, such fluctuations occur in the same individual in sequence.

Additional topics

Human Behavior