More and more girls are starting puberty early. Some as early as six! If you’ve got daughters–and I’ve got three of ’em–there are a few things you really, really need to know. Let’s start with the good news, some of which I’ve written about extensively.
Girls who have actively involved dads start puberty later than those with less involved dads. In fact, girls who grow up without a biological dad are twice as likely to start puberty young than girls in families where mom and dad are there. (An unfortunate piece of bad news for women who’ve remarried is that a stepfather in the home can accelerate puberty too.)
So why is this a problem? Aside from the fact that our society starts sexualizing little girls waaaaay too young, early puberty has been linked with a number of pretty serious issues. Girls who start puberty earlier are more likely to have social and/or psychological problems, have low self-esteem, have eating disorders, are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, are more likely to get involved in criminal activity and unnecessary risk-taking, and start having sex earlier–and that causes problems of its own: more sexual partners, more sexually transmitted diseases, higher risk of becoming teen mothers.
There’s a fantastic article in today’s NY Times. Some of the disconcerting highlights:
- In 2010, researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Kaiser Permanente of Northern California, and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York published a study in Pediatrics, finding that by age 7, 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls, and 2 percent of Asian girls had started developing breasts.
- “Puberty includes a final growth spurt, after which girls mostly stop growing. If that growth spurt starts too early in life, it ends at an early age too, meaning a child will have fewer growing years total. A girl who has her first period at age 10 will stop growing younger and end up shorter than a genetically identical girl who gets her first period at age 13.”
- “Girls who are overweight are more likely to enter puberty early than thinner girls, and the ties between obesity and puberty start at a very young age.”
- “Animal studies show that the exposure to some environmental chemicals can cause bodies to mature early… One concern, among parents and researchers, is the effect of simultaneous exposures to many estrogen-mimics, including the compound BPA… Ninety-three percent of Americans have traces of BPA in their bodies…. More than a million pounds of the substance are released into the environment each year.”
- Evidence links maternal depression with developing early.