How do 16-year-olds behave
Earlier in the difficult years
During puberty, the body changes a little more every day, and things get mixed up in the brain too. And as if that weren't enough, first love plunges most young people into a deep emotional chaos.
The term puberty comes from Latin and means "manhood". This describes the time in which children or adolescents become sexually mature.
In the middle of the 19th century, most girls had their first menstrual period when they were just under 17. Today, many young women have their first period much earlier.
The boys are in no way inferior to them: They sometimes have their first ejaculation before the age of twelve.
Experts see the improved nutritional situation of the population in the course of the past century as the main reasons for the earlier sexual maturity.
In addition, children are becoming more and more overweight. This is to be viewed critically, especially with girls: the more fat the body stores, the sooner the first menstrual period starts.
Another reason, which is difficult to prove, could be the increased uptake of the chemical bisphenol-A in recent decades. This chemical has effects similar to the female hormone estrogen and could contribute to precocious puberty.
Researchers at the University of Florence claim to have discovered another reason: They assume that there is a connection between television and computer consumption and the onset of puberty.
The thesis: The radiation from the monitors reduces the hormone melatonin. The lower concentration has an impact on the onset of sexual maturity.
Puberty begins in the head
The so-called gonadotropins set the processes in the body in motion. These hormones are made in the pituitary gland and allow the gonads to grow.
These in turn take over the production of the actual sex hormones. The assumption that girls only produce female hormones and boys only male hormones is now out of date.
Today we know that puberty is triggered by both groups of hormones in both sexes. The ratio only changes in the course of puberty - with the girls in favor of the estrogens, with the boys the testosterones then predominate.
Girls get a growth spurt
First of all, the body changes: the girls get a good growth spurt between the ages of ten and eleven. The first thing to do is to make the hands and feet bigger. The chest and the first pubic hair also begin to grow.
At twelve, the girls really shoot up again. In addition, the sweat glands develop and the pubic hair begins to pucker.
The first menstrual period usually starts between 13 and 14, then the pelvis and hips also widen, and a delicate downy layer forms under the arms.
At 15, the breast is fully grown, the cycle becomes more regular and the first ovulation begins. A year later the girls are fully reproductive.
Boys reach puberty a little later
For boys, puberty begins at around twelve years of age, a little later than for female teenagers. First, the testicles, scrotum, and pubic hair grow. Then the penis begins to get bigger too. At the age of 13, the growth spurt follows, which lasts an average of three years.
By the time the boys are 15 years old, most of them have had their first ejaculation, then the first body and facial hair will grow and the sweat glands will develop. Most of them end their puberty at 16. The first mature sperm cells are produced.
And something else is changing: the boy's voice is about an octave lower after the voice breaks.
Construction site - also in the brain
It is obvious that the body changes during puberty. But a lot happens in the teenagers' brains too. Science used to assume that a six-year-old child's brain was as good as full-grown. However, new studies show that this is not true.
The US psychiatrist Jay Giedd is a pioneer in this field. Among other things, he found out that during puberty new connections are made between nerve cells and others disappear instead.
The so-called frontal lobes are primarily affected by these processes. An important control center is located in this region of the brain. Possibly the moods and weaknesses in decision-making, the forgetfulness and the unpredictability and, last but not least, the learning difficulties of many adolescents are the results of these restructuring measures.
And there's something else: because the brain resembles a construction site, alcohol, nicotine and other drugs are particularly harmful.
Time of doubt and uncertainty
Also, puberty is a time of doubt and uncertainty. Adolescents no longer feel like children, but the adult world often seems incomprehensible and mysterious.
A lot comes together: the emotional chaos of the first love, problems with one's own changed body, crises of meaning. Some adolescents suffer from eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, others even have suicidal thoughts.
Further research shows that teenagers and adults process emotions in different brain areas. That also explains the very different reactions.
In several, similarly structured studies, adolescents and adults were shown portrait photos of people with angry, laughing, angry and aggressive facial expressions. You should assign the emotions to the respective facial expressions. Meanwhile, the researchers observed the working brain.
The adolescents used an area called the amygdala for mapping. This is a region of the brain in which decisions are made more emotionally and spontaneously.
In the elderly, the same process took place in the much more developed frontal cortex, a superordinate unit. Scientists conclude from this that adolescents are simply not able to classify emotions correctly and therefore often react impulsively.
Of course, all these insights cannot improve the emotional chaos and the insecurities and fears that the changes in the body bring with them - but they may help children and parents to have a little more understanding for each other during these difficult times.
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