"Do boys and girls go through adolescence the same way?"
June 3, 2007 1:28 PM   Subscribe

So, last month, this AskMeFi thread got posted: "Weed Made me Crazy!" Which prompted this MetaTalk thread: "Honest Question or veiled Propaganda?" But the meat of the threads was about going through adolescence. I think a majority of the answers were provided by men; if so, how was it for the ladies? I mean adolescence, not the above threads.

The gist of both threads amounted to the notion that around the time adolescence starts flooding boys with testosterone, we (guys) start thinking differently. However it is described, this effect is notable. Most often with the before and after being appreciably different.

Is this the case for women also? What was your experience of how you thought, both about things and of things, before and after?
I kind of assume it would be different for girls (so many things are), but I realized I had no idea.
posted by From Bklyn to Science & Nature (22 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

i know this isn't just about weed but when I had a baby at nineteen I could not smoke pot anymore at all. I felt like it was a hormonal thing. i felt like if I smoked pot I wouldn't notice if the baby had pneumonia and was about to die. It was horrible.
posted by 9000.68 at 2:11 PM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have noticed that of the men that I've known, many of them see their life before puberty as almost a third person experience. That is the person who was thinking thoughts in their head before they were 12 or 13 seems to be an entirely different person than whoever is thinking now.

I don't have this schism. I feel like I've been first-person pretty much the whole time. I remember being me without breasts and whatever other secondary sex characteristics I now have. I remember being me when I weighed 40 lbs (because it was the weight I needed to hit to not have to sit in the godforsaken carseat anymore) I always got crushes on boys but when I was a kid I wanted to kiss and/or marry them and now I just want to sleep with and/or move to Australia with them. Does this answer your question?
posted by jessamyn at 2:52 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wow, Jessamyn, I guess I'm atypical (for a guy), but your experience mirrors mine exactly. I feel like there's an unbroken line between the child me and the 40s me. And it's always odd to me when I meet people who don't like kids, because I don't have a clear separation in my mind between kids and adults.

I also never went through the "girls are gross" stage. I've always liked girls. It's just that once I entered puberty, I liked them ... more. And in new ways.
posted by grumblebee at 3:13 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

The gist of both threads amounted to the notion that around the time adolescence starts flooding boys with testosterone, we (guys) start thinking differently.

As a female, this wasn't my experience. It's true that I started thinking more about things like sex when I was 11 or 12, but it was still definitely my personality thinking them - I didn't experience any sort of drastic change in how I thought about things or reacted to them. As an older teen I was moody and withdrawn a lot, but only externally, so to speak -- my internal or private thoughts and behaviors were still "me." If I've experienced any major personality changes in my life it was in my early 20s, when I was figuring out who I was as an adult without family and childhood friends around all the time.
posted by frobozz at 3:44 PM on June 3, 2007

(I am female) As a younger child, I was a very left-brained, Type-A, high achieving control-freak. Only child, tested extensively, labelled gifted and placed into a special GT class in 4th grade -- you know the type. I was the girl with a stick up her ass who starts preparing for her SAT's 5 years in advance.

Except that somewhere around 4th grade, I read a novel about a guy who was a high-achieving Type A like me, who killed himself because he didn't get into his favorite college or something, and I realized that I never wanted to turn into that kid. I made a conscious decision to be less uptight and more laid back, less logical and more creative. Not sure if this is a typical girl experience or a guy experience, but for me adolescence wasn't just something that happened to me; I was an active participant. I still see a solid line between myself as a small child and myself today, but from 4th grade to about 7th grade the line goes kind of squiggly as I worked on becoming the person I am today.
posted by junkbox at 3:55 PM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

i remember thinking when i was 14 that i now thought like an adult, and that i wanted to remember that number so that as an adult i would treat 14 year olds like rational people. of course, i've matured a lot emotionally, learned more and developed more perspective since then, but i think i was pretty much right-- basically at that age i understood that actions had consequences and that i should choose what i did based on what the outcome was likely to be and what outcome i wanted. this revelation was accompanied by the understanding that i didn't have to do what my parents said-- i could make my own choices based on my priorities and convictions, and if my parents disagreed with me (and found out) then they could choose to punish me according to their convictions and then i could choose how to respond to the way they tried to punish me, and so on (not that i had always been obedient before this, but i guess i realized that being obedient and being good weren't necessarily the same). i was also able to think logically and understand pretty much any adult concept that was explained to me in words i knew.

other than that, i was suddenly obsessed with sex to a distracting extent. i didn't develop much interest in "romance" until significantly later, but i wanted to have sex. this didn't work out for a long time, because i believed that i didn't have to do anything, that any boy who was or possibly could be interested in me would tell me, and that since that wasn't happening i had no chance. i was one of the kids who was constantly made fun of and i thought a lot about killing myself, although i think i knew i would never do it. i became very cynical in general. i was pretty misogynistic because i saw most females acting in ways i thought of as weak, and i had very little tolerance for weakness (probably due to how miserable i felt in my own life. btw, i have since become a raging feminist). and i started having pms, which is the closest to the testosterone thing that i can think of. every once in a while i would feel even more emotional about everything. it took me a while to even link this up with my menstrual cycle and realize that i wasn't just going crazy. oh, and i stopped being christian because it suddenly didn't make sense anymore, though it took years to shake it off completely.
posted by lgyre at 4:14 PM on June 3, 2007

edit: one more thing. i also got really fed up with being forced to do idiotic things in school, so i stopped making any effort at pretty much anything and went from being a great student to a pretty good one (it was public school, after all). it has been a slow process since then to get myself interested in things enough to make an effort again, which i never had trouble with as a child (up 'til then i was always involved in some crazy ambitious scheme or other).
posted by lgyre at 4:20 PM on June 3, 2007

Just a disclaimer towards the initial generalization, but I, a guy, have always had the first person going on. My thought process has remained pretty much the same before and after puberty, not that it didn't make me feel like an outsider amongst my peers. I read a lot and early. Maybe that had a part with it.
posted by Atreides at 4:30 PM on June 3, 2007

I think about things (and of things) much differently than I did before and during adolescence, but I think the change had more to do with accrued experience than hormones. My fourteen year-old behaviors had eighteen year-old consequences; maybe around twenty, I finally made the connection between behavior and consequence, and changed my behavior. (Well, am changing). I think this would have had happened at any stage in my life and that puberty per se was not that influential.
posted by bluenausea at 7:26 PM on June 3, 2007

There is a very definite line in the quality of my memories - before, say, age 10 or 11 they are mostly memories of images (horseshoe crabs on the beach) or physical sensations (eg falling from the swingset onto the packed dirt).

After the line, they are memories of what I was thinking or feeling about the events (thinking about who to sit with the first day of school, etc, or about ideas in books), and in particular an introspective awareness of myself as a person doing or feeling all these things (eg, this is the last day at my elementary school; I should make a point to remember it because it will all be different after this). After the line, I remember reflecting on how it felt to be thinking in a certain way, or reflecting on what I wanted to be like, etc. I had the same experience that bluenausea did of thinking about what I want to pass on to my adult self. After the line, I feel like I have continuity of consciousness up to today.

I don't know if my inner life was different before the line, or if it was substantially similar and I just have lost the memories.

My husband feels like he "gained consciousness" or "became a real person" in his first year of high school, about age 14. He has very few memories from before that time, and feels as if his personality changed dramatically at that time.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:05 PM on June 3, 2007

I'm female. I have plenty of very early memories, some from before I was three, and it's always been recognizably me doing the thinking.
posted by tangerine at 9:28 PM on June 3, 2007

I'm female and in my 20s.

I didn't experience any jump during adolescence, though I did during the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Like bluenausea, I think it had more to do with accumulated life experience (and some situational changes--like moving away from home) than hormones.

I've always had the first-person feeling in my head, and any angst I had as a teenager was there when I was 5 as well. Mostly, the transition I had was to gain a certain sense of perspective--in a good way--but I do feel like my brain is less clear than it was when I was younger.

I think it has something to do with becoming busier and having more on your mind. A banal example: for a long time, I could remember (without trying) exactly which seat I'd sat in in most of my classes, from elementary school through high school. That went away. I know the human brain has enormous memory capacity and whatnot, but my head was just less cluttered when I was a kid. I think that's a huge part of it.

For me, another factor was anxiety. I started having problems with anxiety at age 18 (which I believe is a very common age/life stage for anxiety problems to develop), and that probably affected my sense of mental clarity as well.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:33 PM on June 3, 2007

I'm a girl.

I feel basically no different than I did as a child. I have memories of thought processes from when I was in kindergarten that are essentially the same variety of thought process I'd have now. My personality and the way I interface with the world has not changed in any meaningful way.

My only intense puberty experience involved growing a woman's body, which led men to look at me a certain way; I found that very alarming for quite a long time, since I certainly developed physically before I was mentally interested in being lusted after. But I think that's more of an environmental issue; if I had spent that time in some kind of gender-segregated society, I don't think I would have had that experience.

So, yes, as you say, my pre-puberty and post-puberty selves are essentially the same.

Interesting question!
posted by thehmsbeagle at 10:00 PM on June 3, 2007

All puberty did was make me even weirder than the other girls. They got their growth spurts and sexy bodies. I just kept looking like a fourth-grader... with boobs, to be fair. So it made me hate myself/awkward... at least for a while?

I didn't have much change in the way of maturity or way of thinking in relation to puberty. It was mostly a physical/social thing.
posted by rhoticity at 11:01 PM on June 3, 2007

Response by poster: This is fascinating and awesome. Thanks.
I know (or at least have a pretty good take on) my wife's experience of adolescence and that of two female friends', but I did not know if they were typical or not. I doubted they were typical because I am so discerning and have such fascinating friends (ahem) AND I must have been taking too-small a sample because what they were describing was nothing like my own experience or at least what I thought it must be like for girls (which is to say, somehow similar).

I (male) fall into the 'schism' category, with my life before, during, and then after adolescence being three distinct periods. I always attributed the character of these phases to events that defined my life at those times: moving to the US, doing lots of drugs, stopping the drugs so I could work and feed myself. The threads I linked to were (somewhat) embarrassingly insightful, as I had never considered the enormous effect adolescence and it's hormonal tide, can have. I guess because I've always associated 'hormones' with women and not men, I had never made the obvious conclusion. (Insert obvious snark combining 'Unexamined life' line with 'cultural hegemony of male modalities of thinking' observation here.)(/mediocrehumour)

So this has all been pretty totally interesting.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:42 AM on June 4, 2007

I have always been 'first person' I think. As someone above said, I read an enormous amount as a kid ('adult' books) and I do think that affected my understanding of cognition.

One thing that changed for me at puberty was I became incredibly angry that I was forced to be some sort of peon (as I perceived it) of my parents. I wanted to do what I wanted to do.

That led met to act as something of an asshole. It was like I temporarily lost all empathy and it was all me me me. In retrospect my parents were going through a lot also at the time. But I think for me, adolescence was marked by an incredible narcissism.
posted by miss tea at 4:44 AM on June 4, 2007

My experience was almost identical to lygre's except replace "contstantly made fun of" with "socially invisible, with really strict parents" (though in retrospect, it's a miracle I wasn't constantly made fun of... I wasn't allowed to do *anything* cool).

That said, one thing that marks a definite turning point in my adolescence is discovering punk and hardcore music sometime junior year: it gave me an outlet from the whitebread Abercrombie wonderland that was my high school. There were other events around that time that also shaped me, but the combined effect was more of finding myself than changing who I was.
posted by AV at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2007

I think I (female) actually feel I have more in common with the me from before age 9 than I do with the me from age 9-16. Before age 9, I was a very earnest, studious, serious kid with a lot of big ideas - the kind of little girl who thought starting a journal specifically devoted to metaphysical ideas would be an amusing use of her time. I've become that kind of person again, but I spent a lot of time between 9 and 16 experimenting with different identities and doing things that now make no sense to me (trying on religions, political ideas, fashion concepts seemingly indiscriminately).

I feel, for example, that the me before age 9 could have understood mathematical proofs (I am a math major now) better than the me at 13, when I took and spectacularly bombed geometry. I spent the last year or two of high school working to regain the sense of personal integration that I lost as I moved into puberty.

I don't think I work as hard as I did when I was little, but I think I regained a sense of wonder that I lost once I left third or fourth grade.

I've joked that if I saw the person I was in the first two years of high school on the street, I'd cross to avoid her. I was frankly a pretty crazy, scary person, and I'm glad I snapped out of it.
posted by crinklebat at 5:13 PM on June 4, 2007

One of my first memories is the birth of my self-awareness. I must have been two, because my brother was born a week after I turned three and he wasn't around yet. I squeezed up close to the mirror and said, "I'm me, and I'm you." I thought about myself, the person reflected in the mirror, and I thought about my parents and the new brother or sister I'd be getting soon, and realized that I was my own person.

Since then, I've learned a lot, I've matured, my thought patterns have grown more complex, but it's all been gradual and building, and I'm basically the same person I've always known myself to be.

Sometimes I get the feeling that I've changed, but all I have to do is look back through the diaries I've kept periodically for as long as I've known how to write to realize that I'm still the same basic person.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 12:03 AM on June 5, 2007

I honestly have no idea if my adolescence would have been different had I not been pickling in testosterone. But I do think that the many varieties of "I think exactly the same way, except I am bigger" are examples of wishful thinking, or false memory. They remind me of those little Renaissance and post-Renaissance portraits, where children are little Tom THumb versions of adults. Our idea of our selves reflect a continual narrative re-interpretation of the self that is being continually adjusted to reflect current conditions. Who you were decades ago during a different developmental epoch is very different from who you are now.

Children's brains are simply very different from adolescent brains, which themselves are different from adult brains. There are changes in integration, structure, and development. These are gross changes, and I'm not even going to get into the impact of experience and personality. The frontal lobes don't even fully mature until well into post-adolescence. This has huge impact for executive functions. Children are different.
posted by meehawl at 12:36 PM on June 5, 2007

Who you were decades ago during a different developmental epoch is very different from who you are now.

Maybe, but my parents kept all sorts of stuff I created as a child. Comics, stories, drawings, etc. I look at them now, in my 40s, and I totally connect with them. They don't seem like they were made by someone else. In many cases, I remember making them, what I was thinking about at the time, and who I was with.

(If you look at my doodles, here, you'll see drawings that look almost exactly the same as stuff I created when I was five or six. They technique is better, and now I have an occasional grown-up reference, but then and now it was mostly bug-eyed monsters and the like.)

I've matured since then, of course, but it just feels like I've added more layers to myself. Maybe you're right and it's an illusion, but I have a POWERFUL feeling that there's been this core ME who has been stable, and I can follow a clear line running all the way back to nursery school.

I remember crying and getting really excited about certain things back then, and when I think about those things now, I totally understand why I felt the way I felt -- and I feel at least a glimmer of those feelings welling up again.

My brother is 12 years younger than me, so I watched him grow up (he's 30 now). He's very much like me this way. He talks to me about things that happened when he was really little as if they were yesterday, and he doesn't seem to have changed. He seems to me like the same person he was when he was four -- just with more layers added.
posted by grumblebee at 1:55 PM on June 5, 2007

There are people I grew up with who do fit your model. It's like they have no continuity with the younger version of themselves. I always wonder if these people FEEL like adults (I don't).

I wonder why some people leave childhood behind and others don't.
posted by grumblebee at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2007

« Older Slide guitar in that antipot add...   |   A nice gesture, and a nice drink to match Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.