The onset of puberty is one of the defining moments in a young girl’s life. Whether you celebrated your coming of age with excitement or you desperately turned to Judy Blume for sympathy and support, one thing is for sure…you will never forget that first step on the road to womanhood.
A new study from the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center has discovered, however, that this journey is beginning earlier than ever. In fact, children as young as seven years old are experiencing the onset of puberty, something that is causing concern for both doctors and parents.
According to recent research, 23% of African-American girls and 10% of Caucasian girls reach puberty by age seven, and 43% of African-American girls reach puberty at age eight, along with 18% of Caucasian girls. (Puberty was measured by breast development and appearance of pubic hair.)
There are many possible reasons for puberty arriving earlier. Some people believe that consumption of dairy products rich in estrogen, from hormone-fed cows, contributes to early puberty, while others believe that chemicals and environmental toxins such as parabens might be interfering with our children’s development. Many medical professionals also believe that higher rates of obesity contribute to early puberty, as the excess body fat seems to trick the body into thinking it’s time to begin adult development.
Whatever the cause for early puberty, it’s a good reminder to parents everywhere that it’s never too soon to begin the talk. Although you might think that an eight-year-old is too young to have her period or develop breasts, the reality is that many do. Even if your daughter isn’t going through these changes, it is likely that her friends and peers are, which means she is bound to have plenty of questions and anxiety about these changes.
Along with discussing the realities of puberty, it’s also important to talk to your daughter about safer sex and protecting her body. Early development makes these young girls a target, and it can also lead them to date older boys who are more experienced.
Additionally, many girls who undergo early development get teased, both by fellow girls and by boys who are titillated and confused by the changes. Talk to your daughter about how these changes are natural, normal, and part of nature’s plan. Encourage her to ask you questions and keep an ongoing conversation regarding puberty and safer sex.