Counseling Sheet

Problems of Early Maturity

Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Preventive Medicine

On May 1, 1993, Science News had an article by the name of "Delinquent Developments." The subtitle was called "Career Criminals and Temporary Law Breakers May Cross Paths as Teenagers."

This article is only one among many dealing with the same subject over the past 20 to 30 years. Clues in childhood to predict serious trouble in youth are the timing of puberty, certain personality traits, and the social world of high schools. Together these factors foster different types of juvenile delinquency, depression, eating disorders, unmarried sex, and other serious problems of young people.

The unstructured home life of most children develops personality traits of independence, withdrawn personalities, and lack of respect for authority.

Teenagers who engage in at least some delinquent acts, perhaps as minor as paint writing on bridges, represent the large majority of early maturing adolescents. Poor self-control and aggressive behavior typify virtually the entire lives of some hardcore delinquents. For a 6- to 10-year period, most of today's teenagers carry the heavy weight of early biological maturity, without a sense of adult responsibilities and duties.

For some of these individuals delinquency bridges the 5- to 10-year time between the "now" of physical and sexual maturity, and "later" of social maturity. Youngsters who enter puberty earlier than age 13 proved the most likely to embrace teenage delinquency. Sudden social pressures to start dating and unmarried sex apply almost exclusively to youngsters experiencing early puberty.

If early teens—13 and 14 year olds—smoke, drink, eat sugar, fats, and salt, they tend to be anxious, ill tempered, irritable, worried, and to make poorer decisions about life's choices.

Fifteen-year-old boys who frequently engaged in delinquent acts had previously showed signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), scored extremely poorly on tests for verbal intelligence and reading ability, while making a high score on family adversity, low parental income, low maternal IQ, poor maternal mental health, and having single parents. Reading failure was common. Fighting and delinquency progressively worsened. They bite and hit at age four, shoplift and skip school at age 10, sell drugs and steal cars at 16, and they will probably rob and rape at 22, and embezzle at work and beat their wives at 30.

Pervasive delinquency appeared in one-third of New Zealand 16-year-olds. Fewer than one in 10 boys reported refraining entirely from delinquent acts.

It was stated in Science News that since the mid 1900s, "improved nutrition" and health care have lowered the average age of puberty. I would not call a type of nutrition that increased the rate of delinquency, unmarried sex, unwed pregnancy, depression, a generation gap, eating borders, and other teen problems, as being "improved," but rather as backward steps in nutrition. Avoiding milk and junk foods, a less rich diet, and an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, and grains would slow down puberty.

In most cases delayed puberty may allow a teenager to skip the maturity gap and remain crime free. Girls who did not menstruate by age 16 tended to avoid delinquency of any kind. Those who began menstruating by age 12 proved much more likely to get in fights, steal, use alcohol and illicit drugs, and commit other antisocial acts. Early puberty rudely thrusts girls as well as boys into the maturity gap and magnifies the misbehavior. The youngsters who matured early engaged in more antisocial behaviors, if they attended a coed high school rather than an all girl or all boy facility. Late maturing girls displayed little taste for delinquency at either type of school.

The Science News article did not deal with the physical problems an early maturing child faces, only the emotional and social. Physical ills include increased risk for menstrual problems, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and failure of kidneys and liver. How fortunate is the child born today to a mother and father who know how to prepare a simple vegetarian diet free from grease that will not promote early maturation with all its risks, and who have the moral strength to practice it and provide a strictly structured home with high Christian standards.

Persistent antisocial behavior begins early in childhood, or even in the womb, and persists throughout life unless the youth has a Christian conversion followed by a mighty effort. There is hope also for some who come under the influence of a person who changes his or her life course. A boy, for instance, may happen upon an adult mentor, or a devoted grandparent, who shepherds him toward academic achievement and job success. He finds it unacceptable to this respected person to misbehave, and therefore channels his energies into a path approved by the cherished person. There are subtle forms of brain damage, which foster two major childhood problems. Language difficulties that disrupt listening, reading, writing, and verbal memory, and the lack of attentiveness and self-control associated with the psychiatric condition known as ADHD. Maternal drug use during pregnancy (both licit and illicit), poor prenatal nutrition, the use of coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate, exposure to lead, alcohol, or other toxic substances, and injury from abuse or neglect, are among the many possible culprits causing the brain damage.

A generation ago we entered the instant age: instant potatoes, rice, soups, and whole meals in an instant. But still we muse, "It's not as good as homemade." And yet we are turning out "instant adults." And far too often they, like the foods, lack quality. This picture needs to be changed.

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