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Community Programs to Promote Youth Development
group differences, it has been suggested that early pubertal maturation may be particularly problematic for white American girls, because the kinds of physical changes girls experience with puberty (such as gaining weight) are not highly valued by many white Americans, who seem instead to value the slim, androgynous female body characteristic of white fashion models (see Petersen, 1998; Simmons and Blyth, 1987). In fact, early-maturing white females have lower self-esteem and more difficulty adjusting to school transitions, particularly the transition from elementary to junior high school than later-maturing white girls, white boys in general, and both black girls and boys (e.g., Eccles et al., 1996b; Simmons and Blyth, 1987). These results suggest that youth-serving organizations should be especially sensitive of the need to design programs that will support self-esteem and prevent depression and eating disorders for early-developing white adolescents.
Early maturation can also lead to increased sexual attention from boys and men, which can be quite difficult for adolescent girls to handle. Programs designed to help girls deal with these pressures would be especially useful during the early adolescent years. The need for such programs is made even more salient by the work of Magnusson and Stattin (Magnusson, 1988; Stattin and Magnusson, 1990).
Magnusson and Stattin traced the long-term consequences of early maturation in a population of Swedish females. The early-maturing girls in this study obtained less education and married earlier than their later-maturing female peers. These researchers attributed this difference to the fact that the early-maturing females were more likely to be recruited into older peer groups and to begin dating older males; in turn, as these girls got older, they were more likely to drop out of school and get married, perhaps because school achievement was not valued by their peer social network, while early entry into the job market and early marriage were (Magnusson, 1988; Stattin and Magnusson, 1990).
Although this study focused on Swedish youth, it clearly illustrates the fact that pubertal changes influence individual development as much through their impact on social roles and social interactions as through their direct impact on the mind and body of the individual. Because these girls looked more mature, they were recruited into an older peer group. In turn, participating in older peer groups created a particular set of experiences that had long-term consequences for individual development.
Similar processes are now being studied in other groups. For example, there is growing concern about the ways in which adults change