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:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/magazine/puberty-before-age-10-a-new-normal.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&hpw
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.