Early Bloomers with Poor Social Skills More Likely to Smoke

Release Date: February 14, 2012 | By Katherine Kahn, Contributing Writer
Research Source: Journal of Adolescent Health

KEY POINTS

  • Girls and boys who experience puberty earlier than their peers are more likely to smoke in high school.
  • Early maturing girls and boys are perceived as having fewer social skills than their peers.
  • Poor social skills were more predictive of the use of cigarettes for early maturing girls, than for early maturing boys.
Follow us on Facebook

Children who go through puberty earlier than their peers are more likely to have poor social skills and to smoke cigarettes during their high school years, a new study in Journal of Adolescent Health confirms. Additionally, researchers found poor social skills to be associated with smoking in early maturing girls, but not as often in early maturing boys.

“Kids that go through puberty earlier than their peers are at higher risk for substance use, and at higher risk for not being very socially competent,” said Erika Westling, PhD, the lead author and researcher at the Oregon Research Institute in Eugene. “They’re not really able to control their social situations and they may not make friends as easily. That puts them at greater risk for smoking and other substance use.”

Westling and co-investigators used data gathered from 1,013 students participating in the Oregon Youth Substance Use Project, an ongoing research initiative that follows students over 9 years, from elementary school through 12th grade. Researchers found that those who went through puberty earlier than their peers tended to smoke more as 9th graders and likely to smoke in high school. In addition, they found that youth in 6th grade who matured early were ranked by their teachers as less socially competent than their peers.

“The gender difference was somewhat surprising because we did find that both boys and girls who were earlier maturers use cigarettes earlier and both had lower social competence,” Dr. Westling said. “But for whatever reason, the pathway linking all of those things together was different for boys than for girls.” The researchers suggest that early maturing girls may feel more rejected or excluded by their peers and may smoke to “fit in”.

Westling also explained that the hormonal changes that occur in early maturing kids may actually disrupt their thinking abilities and emotions, putting them at even greater risk for making poor decisions when it comes to smoking or other risky behaviors.

“It’s important that we caution parents and educators that while these kids are physically more mature, they are at greater risk for substance use than their peers,” said Susanne Tanski, M.D., a pediatrician and chair of the Tobacco Consortium of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “They may look like they’re 14 when they’re actually 12—so it’s important to recognize that their appearance does not indicate cognitive or social competence.”

TERMS OF USE: This story is protected by copyright. When reproducing any material, including interview excerpts, attribution to the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, is required. While the information provided in this news story is from the latest peer-reviewed research, it is not intended to provide medical advice or treatment recommendations. For medical questions or concerns, please consult a health care provider.

###

For More Information:

Reach the Health Behavior News Service, part of the Center for Advancing Health, at (202) 387-2829 or hbns-editor@cfah.org.

Journal of Adolescent Health: Contact Tor Berg at (415) 502-1373 or tor.berg@ucsf.edu or visit www.jahonline.org.

Westling E., Andrews J.A., and Peterson M. (2012). Gender differences in pubertal timing, social competence, and cigarette use: a test of the early maturation hypothesis. Journal of Adolescent Health, In Press.

Tags for this article:
Smoking   Children and Young People's Health   Child Development  



Comments on this article
Please note: CFAH reserves the right to moderate all comments posted to the Health Behavior News Service. Any inappropriate postings will be removed.

No comments have been entered yet.


Add Your Comment
Your name
Your Comment
Characters left:
Check the box to verify you are a human commenter.