The Myth of the Raging Hormones
We have all heard the term “raging hormones” being used to describe a teen’s moodiness, irrationality or lack of common sense. However, “if there is a direct relationship between hormones and behavior, then most adults would be moody, aggressive, irritable risk-takers who sleep all day” (12, p. 42). Teens do tend to be moody, and in fact somewhat moodier than adults, due to hormone fluctuations, but no moodier than children (12, p. 31).
Gonadal hormone changes drive puberty, and also drive some adolescent behavior.
Puberty begins in the brain, not the gonads. The brain initiates the first steps in sexual maturation, which may be triggered by anything from fat/body mass rations or day/night cycles (12). Hormones are actually not directly responsible for many adolescent behaviors. Since “rising behavior problems [occur] after pubertal onset” (16) researchers have studied how often hormonal fluctuations can be implicated in behavioral problems.
It turns out that, while hormones can exaggerate behavior, and can place certain individuals at risk for behavioral difficulties, hormones themselves are too slow-acting to provide an explanation for unique shifts in teen behavior. “Hormones rarely cause a behavior but rather exaggerate one’s propensity for that behavior if it is already expressed” (12, p. 4). Teens adjust to the increased hormonal activity after their long relatively hormone-free childhood. As Elizabeth Shirtcliff (16) puts it, “The biological basis of social behavior is context-dependent.” For example, teens with poor relationships with their fathers show correlations both with testosterone levels and risk-taking behaviors (3). Girls who mature earlier than their peers show significant increases in risk factors, increasing the chances for delinquent behavior, depression, and even future divorce rates. (12, pp. 43-46). But pointing to hormones as the cause of all behavioral difficulties in adolescence is inaccurate.