our everyday life

What Is Biosocial Development in Teenagers?

by Sheri Oz, studioD

Biosocial Development Theory refers to the understanding that a person’s genetic makeup interacts with the environment at different stages of development, leading to various outcomes. For example, height is genetically determined, but a person might not reach her maximum height if she doesn't have sufficient nutrition in childhood and adolescence. Similarly, personality has a genetic basis and the interaction of the child and teenager with parents and other adults and children influences the way the person’s character develops.

Biology and Culture

Adolescence is commonly referred to as the developmental stage between 12 to 18 years of age, and it's characterized by mood swings, risky behavior and rebellion. However, according to a 2010 article in the journal "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience," both the length of adolescence and the role teenagers play in society differ around the world. While puberty marks the onset of adolescence, it can last until the age of 15 in primitive societies or until the mid-20s in contemporary middle-class Western societies. Teens in more primitive societies are expected to take on roles of responsibility such as looking after elders and do not have the same freedom to engage in peer-oriented activities as are seen in the West. This might be behind the observation that teenagers in primitive societies neither engage in the same risk-taking activities nor experience the same kind of stormy moods as do their age-mates in more advanced nations.

Timing of Puberty

It has long been known that boys who enter puberty earlier than their peers have a social advantage in contrast with their later developing classmates because they will be taller and look more mature. However, girls who enter puberty early might suffer embarrassment because they show obvious signs of sexual maturity even before the early maturing boys. Their biological clock will thus affect young teenagers’ social adjustment and challenge their social skills, according to a 2010 research paper published in the journal "Developmental Psychology." Similarly, given the media emphasis on beauty, adolescents’ appearance and body shape will influence their peer status and emotional development.

Biosocial Influences on Gender Development

In childhood, boys and girls do not yet have a clear sense of their own masculinity or femininity, something that grows more stable from puberty onward. An article published in October 2011 in the journal “Trends in Cognitive Science” describes the relative effect of biology and socialization on the teenager. Female fetuses exposed to an abnormally high level of testosterone are more likely to have typically male interests and attitudes into adulthood than other girls, and it is thought that this is due to the effects of fetal male and female hormone levels on brain development. Male and female brains are different, and this difference might have as much of an effect on gender role development as social expectations.

Biosocial Influences on Mental Health

Children are born with varying abilities to tolerate stress. A review of the research, published in the “Journal of Marriage and the Family” in August 2012, reported that parental warmth and predictability can moderate the negative effects of a genetic predisposition toward low stress tolerance. This also means that in times of stress, something that happens in all families to varying degrees, children respond differently. The effects of their responses to stress in childhood persist into adolescence such that some teens are less able to calm themselves when upset unless specifically taught to do so.

What Parents Can Learn from This

Perhaps there is a degree of comfort in knowing some children have more difficulties than others because of their genetic makeup rather than due to failure on your part. At the same time, your sensitivity to the particular challenges facing your growing teenager can lead you to consider ways to help your child without blaming her for being "that way." Looking at other cultures, an important lesson might be to ensure your teenage kids have some family responsibilities as a way of letting them know how important they are to you; this might lessen their tendency toward risk-taking and increase their self-esteem.

About the Author

With an Master of Science in marital and family therapy, Sheri Oz ran a private clinical practice for almost 30 years. Based on her clinical work, she has published a book and many professional articles and book chapters. She has also traveled extensively around the world and has volunteered in her field in China and South Sudan.

Photo Credits

  • Chad Baker/Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images