Adrenarche and the Emotional and Behavioral Problems of Late Childhood.


PURPOSE: Mental and behavioral disorders increase in prevalence with the passage through puberty. Yet the first symptoms for many children emerge between seven and 11 years, before the pubertal rise in gonadal hormones. A possibility that symptom onset may be linked to the adrenarchal rise in androgens has been little explored. METHODS: The Childhood to Adolescence Transition Study recruited a stratified random sample of 1,239 eight-nine year olds from primary schools in Melbourne, Australia. Saliva samples were assayed for dehydroepiandrosterone, dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S), and testosterone. Emotional and behavioral problems were assessed through parental report on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. RESULTS: In males, high levels of all androgens were associated with greater total difficulties and peer problems. Higher dehydroepiandrosterone and testosterone were associated with emotional symptoms and DHEA-S with conduct problems. In females, DHEA-S was associated with peer problems. CONCLUSIONS: In late childhood, androgens are associated with emotional and behavioral problems in males, raising a possibility that the adrenarchal transition plays a contributing role. If so, the late primary school years may prove to be an important phase for preventing the onset of mental health and behavioral problems in boys.