On average, Black males start puberty at younger ages than males of other racial or ethnic groups. Early puberty has been linked to risks for negative outcomes, yet we know little about how Black males navigate the changes in their bodies or understand their social identities. A new study explored how young African American and Caribbean Black males understand these matters and how variations in their understanding affect their self-concept and well-being.
Researchers examined associations between three pubertal domains (voice change, hair growth, and perceived relative timing of puberty) and their effects on symptoms of depression, self-esteem, and self-efficacy in a nationally representative group of African American and Caribbean Black males from around the United States.
The study, “Comparing Associations Between Puberty, Ethnic-Racial Identity, Self-Concept, and Depressive Symptoms Among African American and Caribbean Black Boys,” was conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Arizona State University. It is published on the website of the journal Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development.
“Black males who adopt healthy beliefs about their ethnic-racial identities during the transition to puberty are likely to have better mental health and stronger self-concepts than their Black peers who do not adopt such beliefs,” says Rona Carter, associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Michigan, who led the study.
“Greater attention should be placed on pubertal education programs that include exploration of one’s ethnic-racial identity to help Black males process the identity-related messages they receive while navigating the transition to puberty,” suggests Eleanor Seaton, associate professor in the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at Arizona State University, who co-authored the study. “Individual characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, and the effects of various layers of social context affect the degree to which experience or context affect the mental health and self-concept of Black males.”