Researchers re-think puberty, recommend changes to how it’s studied

Newswise — ITHACA, N.Y. – The awkward and uncomfortable life stage of puberty is a crucial avenue for understanding human development over the course of a lifetime and researchers are now recommending changes to the study of puberty to better reflect the realities of today’s world.

Jane Mendle, associate professor of human development at Cornell University, and colleagues have proposed revisions to the scientific approach to studying puberty. Their paper, “Understanding Puberty and Its Measurement: Ideas for Research in a New Generation,” published in a special issue of the Journal of Research on Adolescence, is the first comprehensive review of puberty that’s been published in decades.

“We now have much broader public dialogues regarding sex, gender, diversity and the economic circumstances of our country,” Mendle said. “So, it means something different to come of age during this particular historical era, both because our society is different and because the actual timing of puberty is earlier.”

Research in this area is just beginning to make sense of these needed changes. Foundational research questions need to be updated to gather the best understanding of what life is like for subjects as individuals. Researchers also have to view puberty as starting earlier than previously accepted, with implications as it relates to a subject’s psychological maturity.

“One important aspect is that researchers used to think of puberty as the beginning of adolescence,” Mendle said. “But because kids are entering puberty at younger ages, the sorts of challenges they have and their level of cognitive and emotional development at the start of puberty is now more in tune with middle childhood.”

Another critical need for modern puberty research is addressing diversity and social context within literature, as very little research has investigated how the psychological experience of puberty may differ depending on socio-economic status, social context, race, sex and ethnicity.

The researchers recommend several strategies to address diversity and social context: collaborating with researchers who have knowledge of the population under study; involving members of the community; consulting with individuals from underrepresented backgrounds; considering theoretical frameworks for diverse populations; and making methodological shifts to studies themselves, including increasing the use of open-ended questions and paying close attention to the interpretation and dissemination of data and final results.

“We have to be careful about generalizing conclusions and take care to ensure that the experiences of a broad array of kids are well-represented in the research literature,” Mendle said.

For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.





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