relationship crucial to when girls enter puberty, Vanderbilt researchers
Tenn.A young girl's relationship with her family, especially
with her father, may influence at what age she enters puberty, according
to Vanderbilt University researchers.
close, supportive relationships with their parents tend to develop
later, while girls with cold or distant relationships with their parents
develop at an earlier age.
is published in the most recent edition of the Journal
of Personality and Social Psychology. The research was conducted
by Bruce Ellis, a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt (now at the University
of Canterbury in New Zealand); Stephen McFadyen-Ketchum, adjunct assistant
professor of psychology
at Vanderbilt; Kenneth Dodge, professor of psychology
and psychiatry at Vanderbilt (now at Duke University); Gregory
Pettit of Auburn University; and John E. Bates of Indiana University.
looked at 173 girls and their families from Nashville and Knoxville,
Tenn. and Bloomington, Ind. from the time the girls were in pre-kindergarten
until they were in the seventh grade.
had close, positive relationships with their parents during the first
five years of life tended to experience relatively late puberty, compared
to girls who had more distant relationships with their parents. More
specifically, the researchers found that the quality of fathers' involvement
with daughters was the most important feature of the early family
environment in relation to the timing of the daughters' puberty.
enter puberty later generally had fathers who were active participants
in care-giving; had fathers who were supportive to the girls' mothers;
and had positive relationships with their mothers. But it's the fathers'
involvement, rather than the mothers', which seems to be paramount
to the age of the girls' development. The researchers believe that
girls have evolved to experience early socialization, with their "antennae"
tuned to the fathers' role in the family (both in terms of father-daughter
and father-mother relationships) and that girls may unconsciously
adjust their timing of puberty based on their fathers' behavior.
found that girls raised in father-absent homes or dysfunctional father-present
homes experienced relatively early pubertal timing.
several theories as to why this occurs. One biological explanation
is that girls whose fathers are not present in the home may be exposed
to other adult malesstepfathers or their mothers' boyfriendsand
that exposure to pheromones produced by unrelated adult males accelerates
female pubertal development. The flip side of that theory is that
girls who live with their biological fathers in a positive environment
are exposed to his pheromones and are inhibited from puberty, perhaps
as a natural incest avoidance mechanism.
live with their fathers but have a cold or distant relationship with
them would not be exposed to their fathers' pheromones as much as
girls who have more interaction with their fathers, therefore causing
the girls in the distant relationship to reach puberty earlier, the
notable, the researchers say, is the important role fathers seem to
play in their daughters' development, given that the quality of mothering
is generally more closely associated with how children turn out than
is the quality of fathering.
was funded by National Institute
of Mental Health and the National Institute of Child Health and
Beth Fox (615) 322-NEWS