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J Youth Adolesc. 2011 Oct;40(10):1343-56. doi: 10.1007/s10964-010-9621-7. Epub 2010 Dec 30.

The developmental pathway from pubertal timing to delinquency and sexual activity from early to late adolescence.

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School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


There is strong evidence that early pubertal timing is associated with adolescent problem behaviors. However, there has been limited investigation of the mechanisms or developmental relationships. The present study examined longitudinal models incorporating pubertal timing, delinquency, and sexual activity in a sample of 454 adolescents (9-13 years old at enrollment; 47% females). Participants were seen for three assessments approximately 1 year apart. Characteristics of friendship networks (older friends, male friends, older male friends) were examined as mediators. Structural equation modeling was used to test these associations as well as temporal relationships between sexual activity and delinquency. Results showed that early pubertal timing at Time 1 was related to more sexual activity at Time 2, which was related to higher delinquency at Time 3, a trend mediation effect. None of the friendship variables mediated these associations. Gender or maltreatment status did not moderate the meditational pathways. The results also supported the temporal sequence of sexual activity preceding increases in delinquency. These findings reveal that early maturing adolescents may actively seek out opportunities to engage in sexual activity which appears to be risk for subsequent delinquency.

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