Early bloomers with poor social skills more likely to smoke

By Katherine Kahn

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 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 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 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 who were earlier maturers use 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.”

More information: 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.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Family relationships may protect early teens from alcohol use

Jun 07, 2011

(Medical Xpress) -- Close family relationships may protect teenagers from alcohol use, according to research by The University of Queensland’s Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research (CYSAR) and the Centre for Adolescent ...

Email link to boys' popularity

Oct 14, 2011

Surveyed boys who used email at home were brighter and more popular than boys who did not – according to a recent study by an educational psychologist from Curtin University.

Recommended for you

Law requiring release of health information upheld

19 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—A state law that requires plaintiffs to release relevant protected health information before proceeding with allegations of medical liability has been upheld by a federal appeals court, according ...

Research highlights extent and effects of school violence

1 hour ago

Six percent of U.S. children and youth missed a day of school over the course of a year because they were the victim of violence or abuse at school. This was a major finding of a study on school safety by University of New ...

Planning for the move from children's to adult palliative care

4 hours ago

The differences between children's and adult palliative care services are too wide for young people with life-limiting conditions to negotiate, according to research by Bangor University. Commenting on the findings, the researchers ...

User comments