We often hear about how tough things are for teenage girls growing up, what with body image issues and vagina fascism. But spare a thought for teenage boys, characterized the world over as pie-fucking sex obsessives recognizable by their gangly, lumbering gait.
Now, science has proved that at least one of those stereotypes is true. A new study from researchers at the University of Bologna finds that teen boys really are as uncoordinated as you remember.
The researchers found that boys were more likely to experience growth spurts during adolescence that affected their ability to walk straight. In the study of 88 teenage boys, those who had growth spurts (defined as growing more than three centimeters in height in a three month period) were found to have a significantly less smooth gait than steadily growing teenage boys. In practice, what this means is that the faster teenage boys grow, the more likely they are randomly break things.
To find out why teen boys are scientifically clumsy, Broadly spoke to lead researcher Dr Maria Cristina Bisi. First, she explained how one can actually measure physical awkwardness. "We positioned sensors on the subjects' lower back and legs to detect how the body's torso moved. This enabled us to look at how motor control is affected." Participants were asked to walk back and forth down a corridor while counting backwards aloud in intervals of eight from a random starting number, in what sounds like the world's most stressful sobriety test.
"When we have this really fast height growth, which only lasts a few months, what we find is that boys tend to lose their coordination and become clumsy." Teenage girls, on the other hand, don't have the same problems because they tend to grow at a smoother, steadier rate. "Girls show this problem less because height increase is more continuous and not as fast. Also, girls start growing earlier—around 12 or 13—and stop growing sooner, whereas boys will continue growing until 21."
Reassuringly, most boys will regain their balance when the growth spurt ends—although an unlucky few might always be clumsy as fuck. "Most of the boys will regain their coordination: when the brain catches up with the growth spurt, and works again." However, "some of the boys continue to be clumsy, so this is a problem we're also interested in. Why it is that some people regain their coordination, and why others do not."
I ask Dr Bisi whether this means that, scientifically, teenage boys are likely to be less good at activities that prioritize balance and coordination—like ice skating and ballroom dancing. "I'd say that, for the teen boys affected, their gait was still basically good—they're not in danger of falling over— they're just not as coordinated as their peers. So I don't think they'd have a problem ice-skating."
The ultimate aim of their research, as Dr Bisi explains, isn't just to give teen boys an excuse for being shuffling plate-breakers. "We want to get a deeper understanding of motor development so that we can program effective intervention in people with motor performance issues."
She goes on, "if you had a car that was broken, you'd want to understand how it was built. So that's what we're trying to do here: understand motor development so that we can learn how different factors, like sudden height growths, can affect your motor performance."