Nkanyiso, a Facebook friend, posted that he was once at a family gathering and there was this girl who he thought was older than him. It was the first time they had ever met and so as a sign of respect, he constantly referred to her as ‘sisi’ (big sister). Then it later emerged that she was actually younger but because girls often mature faster than boys, she appeared to be three and above years older than him. Now, as much as he didn’t regret affording another human being respect, he wanted to know why girls always seemed more mature than their male counterparts.
What Do Scientists Say About the Gap?
Girls not only mature faster than boys, but scientists believe their brains develop up to ten years earlier! According to researchers at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, girls maximise brain connections earlier than males. In this study, scientists examined brain scans from 121 healthy people, aged 4 to 40. It’s during this period that the major changes in brain connectivity occur.
According to the researchers, this could explain why girls progress faster than males in particular cognitive and emotional areas during childhood and adolescence. The new research was published in Cerebral Cortex on December 19, 2013.
It was revealed that as the brain matures, it starts to delete stored neuronal connections that it no longer considers relevant. The connections in the brain that are not used on a regular basis tend to diminish and vanish, but the neural networks that are used on a regular basis persist. This is known as ‘fire and wire’, and it is an example of neural network survival of the fittest.
Due to the rapid puberty process, girls physically mature faster than boys on a physical level as well. Biological differences also mean that girls reach puberty roughly one to two years earlier than boys and generally complete the stages of puberty faster than boys.
Although it is still unknown why girls reach puberty sooner than boys, evolutionary theory suggests that women mature faster in order to avoid marrying a man their own age who is less capable of protecting and providing for them and their future child. Of course, in today’s society, this is no longer the case.
Given the distinct roles men and women have in the environment, it may make sense for a woman to generally mature physically faster than a man, as her body prepares to hold a child.
“But as we’ve developed shared values and morals as a society, that tends to mute the process that biology was trying to encourage,” said Dr. James Meyer, a Marshfield Clinic pediatrician.
By late high school, guys have caught up to girls in terms of development, according to Meyer. The brain development of both boys and girls does not complete until around the age of 25.
Despite the fact that brain development does not complete until around the age of 25, Meyer claims that “the key changes in thinking processing have already occurred” in late adolescent children.
Friendships May Suffer in Adolescence
Meyer believes that the maturity gap has an impact on friendships between boys and girls who used to play well together in childhood but are no longer on the same page. Additionally, each person goes through puberty at his or her own pace. In the process, a youngster may fall behind or ahead of his or her peers. This makes children fearful of standing out among their peers.
“Kids can feel like their buddies aren’t going through the same thing as them, and as a result, they stand out,” Meyer explains. “A part of puberty is that the child is always unhappy with their physical changes. They might feel alone.” Meyer maintains it is critical for parents to tell children that what they are going through is normal and will pass with time.
The human body is complex and mysterious; the more researchers reveal information about it, the more it’s apparent that people don’t know much about their own bodies. But as for Nkanyiso, he’ll know that ‘age is just a number’ is not just a cliché next time he attends a family gathering!
Did you know you share 99% of your DNA with a stranger? Read here to find out more.
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