Puberty is a time of intense physical and psychological upheaval. Like the caterpillar and the butterfly, the move from adolescent to adult human can require great transformation. But in cases of early childhood trauma, the emotional aspects of that shift could work to a child's benefit. As we age, we tend to look at this period in our lives as one filled with grief and discomfort, but in some cases, puberty might be able to help people heal.
We undergo numerous changes with puberty, with shifts in hormones being at the root of most of them. MedicalNewsToday reports that, along with several physical signs of maturation, hormonal changes can lead to mood swings and heightened emotions. Of course, we know this, if we've been through it. Combined, the different aspects of puberty can make it a challenging period for both the adolescent and everyone around them. But what about when that teen has been traumatized?
According to a study measuring adolescents’ stress levels, puberty might be able to transform, or at least help transform, traumatized minds.
The study focused on the cortisol levels of children who had suffered the trauma of losing their parents but had been adopted into safe, loving homes. The researchers found that these children, when put under the mild stress of answering difficult math problems or preparing and delivering 5-minute speeches that would be rated by judges, had abnormal cortisol levels in their saliva. The abnormal cortisol levels also appeared to correspond with memory and attention span issues.
After they’d completed puberty, however, the children’s cortisol levels more closely matched those of other post-pubescent peers their age. The researchers believe adolescence is a pivotal time for brain development; we’re already primed for change, so puberty, alongside positive influences and experiences, might help children to hit a sort of emotional “reset” button. Better cortisol responses mean more resilience against stressful events, better judgment and sharper cognitive skills and this can make all of the difference as these kids age.
Puberty is no walk in the park, but we all have to go through it, and it might be more important to our development than we realize. Trauma can have lasting effects, for sure, but the body also has many routes it can take to heal and time, it seems, really can help. And more than anything, a positive, healthy environment for all kids, those who have faced trauma and those who haven't, is the vital key to helping adolescents find a fresh start.
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