Puberty is a critical stage of human development where adolescents physically, mentally and psychologically transition from childhood to adulthood. The development stage of adolescence results in numerous changes that have varied emotional and psychological effects on the adolescents. The changes in adolescents proceed beyond the visible features in boys and girls and include mental and other psychological changes that impact an adolescent’s personality. Adolescent girls are more vulnerable to the emotional and psychological implications during puberty compared to their male counterparts. To validate this proposal, this paper critically reviews, evaluates and analyzes eleven peer-reviewed research articles and other sources on adolescence in girls. The findings obtained from the review indicate a gap in the body of knowledge regarding adolescence in girls. The researchers have focused on the physical changes during puberty, the common character traits, and notable adolescents’ behavioral changes. Few researchers have specified the psychological implications of puberty on girls and reviewing of existing studies shows the importance of addressing the vulnerability of adolescent girls to depression, self-image, and self-esteem issues.
The Effects of Puberty on Mental Health and Self-esteem of Teenage girls
According to Pickhardt (2010), puberty refers to the period when the adolescents undergo both physical and hormonal changes which result in them reaching sexual maturity. The adolescent girls enter puberty earlier and mature physically and hormonally faster than boys. Puberty stage is a significant part of a child’s development since its effects directly determine the behavior and attitudes that proceed to adulthood. The hormonal increases and imbalances during puberty affect adolescents differently, and they emotionally respond to the changes differently. The hormonal imbalances affect the adolescents psychologically, and they react differently to the changes during adolescence (Maps & Steinbeck, 2017). Research (Refernce)have been conducted outlining the changes that occur during adolescence and the notable behavioral changes.(cite) The focus on the psychological aspect of puberty in girls is necessary because adolescence is a sensitive stage for girls and the impact of this stage progresses into adulthood.
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According to Revilla (2014), puberty is a critical stage in the development of a child, and the hormonal and physical changes can psychologically affect the adolescents to exhibit traits such as anger, rebellion, and confusion. It is the responsibility of guardians, counselors, and other people involved with the adolescents to understand the psychological implications of puberty and provide ways to manage their emotions. The adolescent girls are more vulnerable to developing psychological and mental health problems during puberty because they are more conscious of the physical changes of the body which may result in low self-esteem (Revilla, 2014). Girls with self-esteem issues detach themselves from other spheres of social life such as school, social media, or even being in public places. This literature review will identify the research gaps in addressing the psychological issues during puberty and give insights on the best way to support adolescent girls with self-esteem issues.
The current body of knowledge about adolescence has mainly focused on the bodily and hormonal changes that the adolescents undergo. Scholars have critically examined the physical changes that both boys and girls undergo during puberty and the notable behavioral attributes that are common among adolescents. The various research studies conducted by the scholars have addressed the changes and traits that are unique to children in the adolescence stage. The strengths of the current state of research field on puberty is that different stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and counselors can easily obtain information on the observable changes that both boys and guys undergo during puberty. Additionally, the stakeholders can get information on the observable behavioral changes attributed to puberty and easily understand that the adolescents behave in a specific way because they are undergoing physical and hormonal changes associated with puberty.
The research field on puberty, however, has weaknesses and deficiencies that prompt this literature review and evaluation. The weaknesses in the research on puberty include lack of adequate information on the psychological implications of the physical and hormonal changes that are attributed to puberty. The scholars have also not adequately addressed the emotional and self-esteem issues that are unique to adolescent girls. This literature review will, therefore, facilitate bridging the information gap by reviewing research by different scholars on the psychological effects of puberty and avail framework for further research to determine ways adolescent girls can be supported to handle mental health and self-esteem issues. This literature review will add value to the existing body of knowledge by offering insights on the mental health issues that adolescent girls go through and possible ways that the different stakeholders in the society can help them to overcome the self-esteem challenges during the adolescence stage.
Different scholars have researched and made findings on the issue of adolescence among both boys and girls. The scholars’ research studies have focused on different aspects of the adolescence stage such as the visible changes that occur during the stage and common traits that children develop during puberty. This paper reviews articles by different scholars to provide a framework for future researches on the psychological implications of puberty on girls. This review categorizes the articles into three themes that outline researchers’ perspectives on the issue of psychological effects of puberty.
Prevalence of Mental Health Issues among Adolescents
According to Maltese, A., Alesi, M., & Alù, A. (2012), adolescent girls are more prone to have low self-esteem compared to their male counterparts. The adolescent girls encounter low self-esteem, depression, and other mental issues at a higher rate compared to the adolescent boys because of their difference in views about puberty. The male self-esteem during adolescence is influenced by autonomy and independence, while the self-esteem of the adolescent girls is influenced and defined by interdependence, sensitivity and external perception of self. Maltese and his colleagues outline that adolescent girls are more sensitive and conscious about self-image hence the higher prevalence of low self-esteem and mental health problems compared to the adolescent boys. The higher prevalence of mental health problems in adolescent girls is supported by Lee-Winn, A., Mendelson, T., & Johnson, R. (2018), who opine that adolescent girls tend to seek validation and acceptance from others more compared to the adolescent boys. The higher affinity for external validation presents higher vulnerability for the adolescent girls to engage in the use of drugs and mostly the smoking of marijuana which is highly addictive. The adolescents who smoke marijuana exhibit traits such as higher levels of aggression and impulsivity compared to the adolescents who do not use marijuana. The findings by Lee-Winn and her colleagues also outline that the emotional and psychological vulnerability of adolescent girls presents them with a higher risk of being addicted to lifetime use of marijuana compared to the adolescent boys.
The hormonal changes in girls during puberty affect them psychologically more compared to younger girls and even the adolescent boys. The research findings on adolescent girls conducted by Op de Macks, Z. et al., (2016) outline that adolescent girls develop risk-taking behaviors at puberty more compared to younger girls that have not reached adolescence. Adolescent girls have a high testosterone and estradiol hormones which psychologically condition them to engage in risk-taking behaviors during decision-making. Op de Macks and his colleagues outline that the hormonal changes during puberty affect girls’ behaviors at a higher rate compared to adolescent boys. The different scholars agree that adolescent girls are more prone to suffer emotionally and psychologically compared to adolescent boys because girls’ self-esteem depends on external validation and perceived self-image, and the hormonal changes impact girls’ behaviors more.
The research studies on the prevalence of psychological and mental issues in girls during puberty have both strengths and weaknesses. The strengths of the research studies on the prevalence of mental health and psychological issues in adolescents include: they create awareness on the commonness of the self-esteem problems in adolescent girls, they show the relationship between hormonal changes in girls and the behavioral changes, and they also identify the reasons why adolescent girls have more self-esteem issues compared to boys. The main weakness of the research studies on the prevalence of psychological issues in adolescents is that the studies do not show the percentage comparisons between adolescent boys and girls to create a clearer depiction of the prevalence of mental health and self-esteem issues in girls during puberty.
Causes of Mental Health and Self-Esteem Issues
Various factors contribute to the development of mental and self-esteem issues among adolescents. The factors that cause mental health problems such as depression and low self-esteem in adolescents range from internal perceptions to the surrounding environment. According to findings of the study conducted by Mihaela, S. (2014), the family set up where the adolescents are raised directly impact their self-esteem, and the emotional and general intelligence. The adolescents raised in normal family set-ups are psychologically stronger compared to the adolescents that are brought up in broken homes or foster homes. The research findings by Mihaela conclude that adolescents from sociable families are self-confident, do not compare their levels of success to others’, and gracefully handle mishaps and failures. Adolescents that grow in foster homes, on the other hand, exhibit inhibition, avoidance, poor risk-taking, anxiety, and low self-esteem because of inadequate support and validation.
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The issue of families contributing to psychological problems for adolescents is supported by Mak, H. (2018) who opines that parenting is a key determinant of the behaviors that the adolescents develop. Mak’s research findings conclude that the use of coercive and disciplinarian approaches in parenting result in an increased rebellion and higher use of drugs and alcohol. The use of hands-free parenting whereby the parents ignore the adolescents may be interpreted by the adolescents as consent to engage in unwanted behavior (Mak, 2018). The parents being inquisitive also psychologically condition the adolescents to be secretive and rebellious because the adolescents interpret inquisitiveness as a breach of their autonomy, independence, and sense of freedom.
The nature of adolescents’ relations with other people significantly determines the psychological and self-esteem status of adolescents. Research findings by Cisler, J. et al. (2018) conclude that adolescent girls are more vulnerable to emotional stress compared to adolescent boys. Adolescent girls begin having stronger relationships at puberty where they are physically and emotionally attached. The involvement in a physical, emotional, or sexual assault in relationships causes adolescent girls to suffer trauma that culminates in PTSD. Cisler and his colleagues conclude that adolescent girls are emotionally invested in relationships and exposure to any assault in the relationships cause trauma and self-esteem issues. On the issue of emotional stress in adolescent girls, the research findings by Prakash, R., Beattie, T. et al. (2017) outline that adolescent girls are more prone to dropping out of school compared to their male peers because of factors that negatively impact their self-esteem. The high level of absenteeism among adolescent girls is attributed to the emotional distress occurring due to bullying, harassment, and ridicule for their bodily changes such as growing breasts, pimples, or their menstrual cycles.
Research findings by Atici, A., Çelikkaya, M., El, Ç., & Akçora, B. (2018) support the argument that adolescent girls are more prone to psychological and emotional problems during puberty by outlining that the psychological and emotional stresses that the girls go through cause pyloric perforations and gastric ulcers. Atici and his colleagues conclude that girls in puberty stage undergo psychological problems because of personal and environmental factors which significantly contribute to the diagnoses of gastric ulcers and pyloric perforations. The strength in the research articles outlining the causes of mental health issues in adolescent girls is that they clearly outline various personal and environmental factors cause self-esteem and mental health issues in adolescent girls. The weakness in the reviewed articles is that they do not specify the extent to which low self-esteem and depression in adolescent girls impact their mental health in adulthood.
Support Measures for Mental Health and Self-Esteem Issues
Numerous initiatives can be undertaken to support adolescents to handle the psychological, emotional, and self-esteem issues that arise during puberty. According to Leventhal, K.et al, (2015), the introduction of psychological programs that focus on emotional resilience, self-efficacy, social well-being, and anxiety can help adolescent girls to cope with the psychological challenges of puberty. Research findings by Leventhal and colleagues conclude that psychological programs also assist adolescent girls to cope with other psychological aspects of their lives such as advocating against discrimination, realizing self-worth, and focusing on achieving own goals. In support of the measures to take to handle mental health and self-esteem issues in adolescent girls, research findings by Op de Macks, Z. (2016) outline that girls with hormonal changes which result in behavioral changes can be mediated through introducing reward-related activation of the brain to minimize the behavioral change.
According to research findings by Najafabadi, M. et al., (2017), mental training helps to improve both psychological well-being and the physical self-concept to embrace physical activities among adolescent girls. The study also concludes that adolescent girls who are exposed to mental training are psychologically tuned to embrace physical activities because the training creates mental picture and imagery of an outcome that improves self-image and self-esteem. Research by Staiano, A. et al., (2017) support the initiative to support adolescent girls by concluding that the introduction of intervention programs for adolescent girls that enhance physical activity encourage girls to reduce time spent on phones, computers, or watching television. Staiano and colleagues conclude that introducing programs that engage the adolescent girls helps to minimize negative psychological issues like depression and low self-esteem. The research articles on the supportive initiatives to handle the psychological issues and low self-esteem in girls have shown strength in outlining in detail various physical programs that can engage the adolescent girls with behavioral and self-esteem issues. The research articles, however, have a weakness in that they do not specify the duration, interval, or a combination of programs to select for adolescent girls with either low self-esteem, low self-worth, or going through depression.
Conclusion and Future Study
This literature review contributes to the existing body of knowledge by providing information about the current state of research about psychological issues that adolescent girls face. The reviews, comparisons, and evaluation of the existing research articles about the mental health and self-esteem of adolescent girls provide the basis for further research on the topic to ensure that the mental health problems among adolescent girls are handled. The main shortcomings of the existing research include failure of the studies to quantify the percentages of adolescents with self-esteem and mental health issues, failure to specify the extent to which the adolescents’ low self-esteem and depression can impact their adult lives, and failure to clearly specify the specific programs for adolescents with either low self-esteem, low self-worth, or depression. The shortcomings of the reviewed research articles provide the basis for future research studies to address the research gaps. From this literature review, future researchers can identify the gaps and base their studies on quantifying the cases of mental health issues during puberty, identifying the extent to which the mental health issues during puberty affect girls in adulthood, and identify the specific programs to implement on adolescents suffering from either low self-esteem, poor self-worth, or depression.
As outlined by Social and Emotional Changes in Adolescence Healthy Families BC. (2014), adolescence is a social and emotional development stage that all stakeholders should be involved in supporting the adolescents to handle the physical and hormonal changes. Different scholars have researched on the topic of puberty and its psychological implications on both boys and girls. The studies have shown that puberty is a stage that involves physical, hormonal, and mental development in both boys and girls. The adolescents respond to the changes differently where there are those who embrace the changes while there are those who are uncomfortable in their changed bodies and, therefore, undergo various psychological challenges. Girls are more likely to develop psychological problems during the puberty stage because they are extremely conscious about their self-image and any changes such as pimples on the face and enlarged breasts may result in either depression or low self-esteem.
The review, comparison, and evaluation of the research studies have shown that the prevalence of low self-esteem and mental health disorders is high in adolescent girls compared to their male peers. The causes of low self-esteem and psychological issues during puberty are either personal factors such as high self-consciousness about looks and disliking body changes or external factors such as poor parenting, broken families, and ridicules for change in body appearance. Puberty is a crucial stage for the adolescents, and most girls are affected psychologically because of body changes. It is, therefore, paramount for teachers, parents, counselors, and other elderly people in the community to address the psychological issues of the adolescents through proper guidance and counseling. Few pieces of research have focused on the psychological effects of puberty of girls, and new studies should, therefore, identify the psychological effects and suggest the best programs to implement in helping adolescent girls.
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- Cisler, J., Privratsky, A., Smitherman, S., Herringa, R., & Kilts, C. (2018). Large-scale brain organization during facial emotion processing as a function of early life trauma among adolescent girls. Neuroimage: Clinical, 17, 778-785. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.12.001
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