Story by: Kim Huston on November 12, 2019
Going through puberty can be a challenge for any child. But children who experience early puberty can have physical, social and emotional challenges that their peers may not, according to researchers. Early puberty or precocious puberty describes puberty that begins before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys. Girls are much more likely than boys to experience this condition. If your child experiences early puberty, how can you help?
The mean age of puberty in girls has been falling in Western populations for the past 150 years. The average age of puberty onset in girls is now 10½. Girls get their period on average at age 12½ to 13. More than 1 in 7 (15%) of American girls start puberty at age 7, and more than 1 in 4 (28%) by age 8, according to the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. Boys are now reaching puberty by age 10, which is six months to two years earlier than previous generations of boys.
Once started, the whole process of puberty takes three to four years. One of the most noticeable parts of puberty is that girls usually grow taller than boys around 11 or 12 years old. Boys catch up and pass them by around age 14 or so. There is no definitive cause for why boys and girls are reaching puberty at younger ages, but childhood obesity, environmental factors and stress could play a role.
S. Paige Hertweck, M.D., pediatric and adolescent gynecologist with Norton Children’s Gynecology, recommends a couple of helpful resources:
Girlology: A Girl’s Guide to Stuff that Matters,” a book authored by a pediatrician and OB/GYN. Girlology also has an online community.
When it comes to early puberty, boys and girls can begin to feel isolated, embarrassed and ashamed about their body and experience issues with their peers, including bullying. Girls are more likely to experience the negative psychological and social consequences of puberty. Studies show that girls are more likely to internalize these feelings, which can prolong the unease and increase their risk for depression. Further, a 2018 study shows girls who begin puberty earlier are at higher risk for mental health issues. The study showed that these girls are more likely to become depressed during their teen years, which can persist into adulthood.
Boys also experience social and emotional effects of early puberty. Boys with early puberty experience more social isolation and are more likely to have conflicts with family and friends, according to one study.
Schedule an appointment with a pediatric gynecologist.
Helping kids navigate social and emotional hurdles during puberty that are tricky at 13 can be even more so when a child is 7 or 8 years old. But these hurdles call for parenting skills that apply at any age: being emotionally present for children during developmental milestones, witnessing their growing pains and providing comfort to help them build resilience when life throws them curveballs. What else can parents do?