The Psychological Impact of Puberty

Your sweet, good-natured child can turn into a completely different person when going through puberty. During this stage, adolescents experience many physical and psychological changes that can result in confusion, anger and rebellion. Although they often push parents away, they need support and understanding to survive this stage and emerge as mature adults. Learning about the most concerning psychological changes that take place during puberty can help you be better prepared for dealing with your child during this stage.

Bodily Dissatisfaction and Low Self-Esteem

During puberty, teenagers struggle with wanting to be accepted and with trying to fit in with their peers. As their bodies begin to change, they may feel different and become self-conscious about these changes. A survey of 1,266 adolescents conducted by Marita McCabe and Lina Ricciardellii found high levels of bodily dissatisfaction among the adolescents, published in the Summer 2001 issue of "Adolescence." Female teens were more concerned with losing weight, while males were focused on increasing muscles mass. The increased concern regarding body image often leads to a reduced self-esteem. Other studies confirm this, such as a survey of 3,586 adolescent girls found that more than half of American girls entering puberty experience a drastic decrease in self-esteem, which leaves them vulnerable to peer pressure, in research from the Commonwealth Fund. During this stage, it is important for teenagers to understand that change is normal and that eventually everyone will experience it.

Mood Swings

Teenage girl thinking

The Adolescent Stage of Human Development

Learn More

Teenagers are known for their "raging hormones" and drastic mood swings. The moods of a teenager going through puberty can fluctuate between excitement, anger, anxiety and depression. Sheryl Smith and her colleagues found that the THP hormone, which is a natural steroid, calms female adult and pre-pubescent mice in response to stress. However, during puberty, the THP hormone has the reverse effect by increasing anxiety, in the study published in the April 2007 issue of the journal, "Nature Neuroscience." The study was done on adolescent female mice. These findings show that puberty is a time of great emotional turmoil and distress for females.

Asserting Independence

As adolescents experience the changes that accompany puberty, they come to the realization that they are entering adulthood. During this time, most teens feel a strong desire to begin separating themselves from their parents and asserting their individuality. It is common for teenagers to become distant during this time. They are in the stage of developing an identity that is unique to them. "They accomplish this task by experimenting so as to figure what their needs are and how they can best go about meeting them," explains family therapist Angela Oswalt, M.S.W. Some adolescents assert their independence by rebelling or experimenting with unhealthy behaviors.

Sexual Awakening

Teenage girl thinking

Physical, Cognitive & Psychosocial Development

Learn More

Before hitting puberty, teens were less affected by gender roles and differences. As their hormones change, they begin to see the opposite sex in a different light and begin to experience sexual arousal. During this time, it is normal for adolescents to begin participating in romantic relationships and experimenting with physical behaviors, such as kissing and even sexual encounters. At the same time, teenagers also become more affected by gender roles and often develop a preference for more gender-specific activities. Some adolescents may experience shame regarding their developing body and sexual curiosity and may choose to withdraw from friends and family.