Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Early Bloomers

This month, in celebration of April, I've been talking about growth. In general, I think of growth as something to celebrate. But what happens when growth challenges our expectations of what we consider normal?

My bookclub met this week and one of our topics of conversation, aside from the book, was the early onset of girls' puberty. The New York Times Magazine section carried a long article on this subject recently. If you'd like to read the article the link is here:

If you don't subscribe or don't want to take the time to read it, the upshot is simple.

Girls are starting puberty at younger ages. Not younger ages like ten but younger ages like seven. They are developing curves, sprouting hair and needing to wear bras during the same years they are also hanging upside from monkey bars, learning to read and jump rope.

This makes most of us uncomfortable.

It's uncomfortable for parents because we don't want our seven year old daughters to be teased or our nine year old daughters to be approached by older boys. It's equally uncomfortable for the girls whose physical appearance belies their emotional age.

According to the reading I've done, early development can be caused by a variety of factors. One factor is excess weight but other factors are outside of parental control. Some studies lean towards the conclusion that what the parent ate as a child, the plastics and chemicals the parents were exposed to are contributing factors in their offspring's early development.

This is frustrating news for parents because whatever we were or weren't exposed to is ancient history. There's no way to go back and undo our T.V. dinner consumption or our time spent playing on pesticide laden grass.

What's even more frightening is that children who experience early onset puberty often experience more depression and feelings of self-loathing. These feelings stretch further into adulthood than do the similar feelings experienced by an adolescent entering puberty at a later age.

So what can we do?

How do we support and protect our children from the growth that is happening whether we want it to or not. Are hormone treatments the answer or does that compound the problem by further interfering with the body's biochemistry?

Do we encourage a broad societal redefinition of what is normal and take comfort in the knowledge that everyone, eventually, will end up in the same place? And given either path, how do we do these things in a way that will make sure our daughters reach adulthood with self-esteem intact?

I don't think there are clear cut answers but I'll talk about some of the best ideas I've heard and read about on Friday.


Talli Roland said...

I wish I had something wise to say, but I think you're right - there are no easy answers. I'd be interested to hear what other people say.

Anne Gallagher said...

It's funny you bring up this topic today. My 7 year old daughter is clearly showing signs of PMS. Her mood swings used to be categorized by if she was hungry or not (when she was a baby). But now, I'm seeing her tear herself apart over the littlest things that should have no bearing on her life at this point. And the only thing I could think (yesterday when she had a major meltdown) was she's having PMS.

And that, is a very scary thought. I told myself I wouldn't need to have "the talk" with her for another couple of years, but it's looking like it's going to come a whole lot sooner than that. Which scares me to death. I mean, how can I explain sex to her, when like you say, she's still swinging on monkey bars and watching SpongeBob.

The Bookworm said...

Isn't it crazy how fast kids mature now? It boggles my mind. I have a soon to be 16 year old son and a soon to be 12 year old daughter. Both of them hit puberty at what I thought was a too early age. And there's nothing I could do about it. Hubby and I had to have 'the talk' with each of them earlier than we expected.

Weaver said...

This is scary. The first thing I thought of was that girls who get into the estrogen earlier might have an increased risk of hormone related cancers, too, though I don't know if they have any documentation for that yet.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Not just the pesticides, Johanna, but ingesting meats with grow hormones have had an accelerating play into children's early puberty.

It's a hard one for both sexes to deal with but girls are more visible in their changes. Add to it, society in general, seems in such a hurry to take away childhood. Emotionally, kids are just not ready for all that.

With this acceleration happening we need to be prepared as parents to help them with it all.


Carol Kilgore said...

I've been reading some about this, too. It's scary. Part of their childhood is stolen from them.

M Pax said...

Higher rates of depression make sense. Hormones can induce those feelings anyway, and someone that young has little experience reining in emotions at all. So they develop no defenses and are saddled with the ups and downs of hormones way too early.

I've heard of this, and have read articles on it. It's alarming, but I guess we have to pretend it's not because we don't want to alarm the poor girls. I hope they figure it out, so we can all work to slow it down.

Jemi Fraser said...

As a teacher I see this in action. A decade or so ago, the average age of the girls starting menstruating was probably grade 7, now it's early grade 6. This seems to be the average. Of course some start later, but a lot are also starting earlier. It's very, very hard on them.

Johanna Garth said...

Thanks Talli.

Anne, my daughter is a little older but I'm certain she has hormonal swings too.

Naida, that's the tricky part because it feels so uncomfortable for everyone.

Donna, yes I've read some research about that too and you're correct.

Sia, absolutely, the hormones in our foods play (and have played)a large role in what's happening.

Carol, I think it's important to figure out how to make sure it's not stolen.

M Pax, so true. It seems like a vicious cycle

Jemi, it's amazing the norm has shifted like that in just ten years.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Hey Johanna - I've always suspected early onset puberty is the result of pre-natal vitamins and a plentiful food supply for both mother and daughter. We're getting older as a society and it just makes sense that we're developing earlier at the other end of the spectrum.

Cathy Olliffe-Webster said...

Hey Johanna - I've always suspected early onset puberty is the result of pre-natal vitamins and a plentiful food supply for both mother and daughter. We're getting older as a society and it just makes sense that we're developing earlier at the other end of the spectrum.

Anonymous said...

It is a scary thought that girls are maturing earlier, or I should say their bodies are maturing earlier. I definitely believe all the growth hormones that are given to animals are passed on to everyone who eats the meat of the animal. I also believe that's why we have so much more sickness and disease. I just could not begin to imagine being a young girl in elementary school and having to worry about the female things that puberty brings on.

Thanks for stopping by my blog a couple of days ago.

Teresa Cypher said...

I have no idea, Johanna. Jeez, life was so much simpler when my daughter was growing up. But, my granddaughter is 4 years old. It is nearly incomprehensible to me that it could only be a couple of years before she enters puberty. She is just a baby. You so hit the nail on the head in this post. They don't have the emotional maturity to deal with such physical/hormonal changes.

I don't know if this is something we want to treat the symptoms (if we could) or if we need to go for the cause--if that is even plausible.

Thanks for the heads-up. I will be watching this now. :-)

Margo Berendsen said...

I wasn't aware of this... at least not to this extent! It feels like the girls are being halfway robbed their childhoods.

Sarah Ahiers said...

The best solution is clearly this "Do we encourage a broad societal redefinition of what is normal and take comfort in the knowledge that everyone, eventually, will end up in the same place" But judging how well our society accepts those that are different, i also think it's probably the hardest to implement

Jill Kemerer said...

I read that article when it came out, and I was shocked. I think it's also hard on girls who develop later, because they're seeing the younger girls develop as the new norm. Like girls don't have enough problems at that age??

Wish I had answers.

Morgan said...

Crazy. What a crazy topic. My oldest is 8 and I can't imagine her dealing with something like this already! Man. I can't wait for your Friday post!

Anonymous said...

Fortunately my wife handles these types of situations very well. I'm there too, though not at the forefront.

Tamara Narayan said...

I didn't experience puberty until high school, and was happy it didn't happen sooner. It's not all that much fun. We'll see how much genetics play a role for my daughters.

My oldest started worrying if she was too fat at age five. This from a kid who might have been 35 pounds at the time.

I tell my daughters they are brilliant and beautiful every day and have already started having age-appropriate 'talks'. One day at a time is my plan.

Scarlett said...

I found an excellent book dealing with all of these issues, including their mental health, "Reviving Ophelia ~ Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls", by Mary Pipher, PH.D.

#1 on the NYT Bestseller list, at the time it was published, it is a must read, in my opinion.

We were told our daughter, 16 now, was in "Precocious Puberty" at two and half years old. Nothing ever came of that diagnosis, other than my own attention being drawn to hormones she may have been getting too much of in cow's milk and/or chicken at the time. We switched to buying *Organic*. (Not as a suggestion by our pediatrician, but simply because it made the most sense to me at the time, and what could it hurt?)

From there, she progressed "normally" and is still just as perfect as the day she was born.

PK HREZO said...

We had the same discussion at our book club. We've also read that hormones in food like milk contributes to early menstruation. I kind of worry about this with my daughter, which is why we do organic milk as well.

Bersercules said...

I read somewhere its the constant images little girls see that makes their minds try and make there bodies develop faster so they can fit in with the world around them better. Remember where only two generations in on the whole "grew up with TV" thing.

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