Children who have an earlier onset of puberty have poorer mental
health from as early as preschool age, a new study by Murdoch
Childrens Research Institute has found.
The study, which followed almost 3,500 children from age four
through to 11, found boys with an onset of puberty by eight to nine
years of age had greater behavioural difficulties and poorer
emotional and social adjustment from early childhood (four to five
years of age). This pattern continued through to early adolescence.
Girls with early puberty had more difficulties in emotional and
social adjustment from early childhood, but not the behavioural
problems found in boys.
The research used the Longitudinal Study of Australian children,
in which the parents of the children were interviewed at four time
points, and asked questions on puberty transition and timing,
behaviour difficulties and psychosocial questions on emotional,
social and school functioning. The study found that these
differences remained even after accounting for other factors that
may be linked to early puberty and mental health, including
ethnicity, body mass index and family socioeconomic
Lead researcher, Dr Fiona Mensah, says the study provides new
evidence of pre-existing and persistent early childhood differences
in socio-emotional well being amongst children who experience early
"There is a heightened risk for behaviour and emotional problems
during puberty; and children who reach puberty earlier than their
peers have more of these difficulties in adolescence."
"We think that the association between early onset puberty and
poorer adolescent mental health is due to developmental processes
that start well before the onset of puberty and continue into
Professor George Patton says the study supports a 'life course'
hypothesis, being that differences in pubertal timing and childhood
adjustment may at least, in part, be the result of genetic and
environmental factors early in life.
"Understanding what lies behind early puberty may also tell us
much about the origins of emotional and behavioural problems of
children and adolescents."
The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent