The Impact of Puberty & Its Affect on School Performance

By Melinda Kedro
Adolescence can be a positive time for your child.
Adolescence can be a positive time for your child.

The rite of passage from childhood to adolescence presents a profuse amount of adjustments for the changing child. The transition from elementary to middle school, a maturing consciousness, awareness of body changes and exploring various social dynamics can create an atmosphere of potential obstacles to optimal academic performance. Support your child's journey through puberty by maintaining active interest in her daily life and offering empathetic encouragement. Your role as a caring and involved parent can positively affect her school performance.

Transitioning Into Adolescence

The physical shifts that occur throughout puberty catalyze a multitude of changes in your child. KidsHealth reports that puberty begins between the ages of 8 to 13 for girls, 9 to 15 for boys. The average U.S. girl begins menstruating at age 12 1/2, while the average U.S. boy reaches sexual maturity at age 14, according to author Thomas Zirpoli, author of "Behavior Management: Applications for Teachers." Physical developments abound during puberty, including changes in body shape and size, hormonal fluctuations, vacillation of voice and changes in skin. Increasing amounts of hormones can stimulate mood swings and intense feelings in adolescents.

Brain Change

Zirpoli describes the many shifts occurring in the brain of a child undergoing puberty. Unnecessary connections between various brain cells are eradicated. The formation of the myelin sheaths completely around the nerve fibers allow messages to travel more rapidly in the brain. The corpus callosum -- the cord of nerves that connects the brain hemispheres -- thickens. All of these changes in the brain cause an increase in memory and problem-solving skills of adolescents during puberty. The biological changes occurring throughout puberty also cause your child's sleep preferences to transform. Zirpoli explains that adolescents are typically most tired between 8 and 9 a.m. and most alert after 3 p.m., possibly causing difficulty with focus and retention during school hours and affecting school performance.

Health for Success

While the child's entire body, including her brain, undergoes these significant changes during puberty, the way an individual child perceives and interprets his transition into puberty ultimately affects the way he handles the experience. A child's academic achievement is fundamentally determined by a myriad of factors extending beyond the biological changes experienced during puberty. A 2013 study published in the "Journal of Adolescent Health," led by Christopher B. Forrest, M.D., Ph.D, demonstrates that children who claim a high satisfaction with life and who are in optimal health maintain greater connections with teachers, earn higher grades and are more committed to schoolwork.

It Takes a Village

Since an adolescent's brain relies more readily on the amygdala -- the area of the brain responsible for impulsive behavior -- a child in the throes of puberty may act more irrationally and make irresponsible decisions, affecting his overall academic achievement. The Center on Early Adolescence emphasizes the importance of positive reinforcement along with family and community involvement in promoting school success for your adolescent. Provide consistent support, structure and positive social opportunities to assist your child through the stages of puberty. Monitoring your child's behaviors and in a respectful, compassionate manner can guide him towards making healthy choices and flourishing academically and personally.

About the Author

With more than 10 years experience in early childhood education, Melinda Kedro holds a Masters degree in education, teaching certification through the Association Montessori Internationale and is a licensed childcare provider through the Colorado Department of Human Services.