Early Puberty: More Than Just One Step Ahead

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Many kids today get things a lot earlier than I did growing up. Six-year-olds have iPads. Ten-year-olds use Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram – better than most adults, I might add. I imagine that, in the future, toddlers will be texting each other from their iPhones.

Technology isn’t the only thing that kids are acquiring earlier; girls are beginning puberty at earlier ages. For young girls, puberty is a process that usually takes two years and involves three distinct milestones: the emergence of breasts, the appearance of pubic hair, and their first menstrual period. According to a study done in 2010, by age 7, the development of breasts had started for 10% of Caucasian girls, 23% of Black or African American girls, 15% of Hispanic girls, and 2% of Asian girls.

Scientists and doctors agree that age seven is early for girls to start puberty; however, they can’t always come together on the issue of normalcy. When is it precocious puberty and when is it just considered ahead of the curve? In addition, what’s causing it?

At this point, doctors cannot identify an exact cause to the sudden drop in age. However, doctors recognize a few factors that may lead to early puberty:

  • Weight is important. Girls who are overweight have higher levels of the hormone leptin and are therefore more likely to enter puberty earlier than thinner girls. Exercise is one practice that doctors recommend for prevention.
  • Environmental chemical exposure is concerning as estrogen mimics can alter puberty timing as they behave like steroid hormones.
  • Family stress has been connected to early puberty. Girls who grow up without a father are twice as likely to enter puberty at a younger age. In addition, maternal depression and growing up in poor countries have affected the times in which girls enter puberty.

The onset of puberty is overwhelming – both for young girls and their parents. The best thing for parents to do in instances of precocious puberty is simply be honest with your daughters. Consult your pediatrician and possibly a pediatric endocrinologist for medical guidance.

Your daughter will be experiencing a lot of changes and she may feel frightened or anxious – and she will need your hand to hold through it all.