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What Does Puberty Mean to Adolescents? Teaching and learning about bodily development

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Puberty and adolescence often are presented to school pupils in ways that can exacerbate individual and social problems. Puberty commonly is defined biologically as reproductive maturation, but this far from exhausts the meanings of this phenomenon experienced by young people. Exclusive attention to reproductive functions provides young people with no conceptual resources to understand the overwhelmingly non-reproductive--and sometimes non-heterosexual--meanings of their own developing bodies and their social experiences. Sexuality education that focuses on the reproductive meaning of puberty thus often is irrelevant or confusing to students. In our teaching about puberty, we commonly overlook the socially constructed nature of the developmental processes and experiences of late childhood and early adulthood. Because we fail to investigate what the experiences undergone by young people mean to them, we impose our own presumably 'objective' meanings on their own experiences. We thereby silence the voices of young people, ignore the meanings which they bring to their experiences of their own bodies, and impose heterosexist (mis)understandings on adolescent bodily development.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: UNITEC Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: July 1, 2003

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