Girls hitting puberty earlier, so parents need to talk with them about it sooner

By Andrea Whatcott

Deseret News

Published: Thursday, May 12 2011 1:35 p.m. MDT

The average age of puberty for young girls continues to fall, and some girls are beginning puberty at the age of 7 or 8, according to the LA Times.

With girls entering this new stage of life much younger than they used to, pediatricians are urging parents to talk with their children about puberty at a younger age, to help them more easily navigate the changes they will soon experience.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the important thing is to get the conversation started early and to talk frequently. Parents can take the opportunity to discuss puberty in conjunction with a school program or even before a doctor's visit.

Jen Slonaker, the vice president of education and training for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts told the Boston Globe, "We advocate (boys and girls) take the lessons together. When they're in a room together, hearing the experiences of one another, that's a huge opportunity for perspective-taking."

Slonaker encourages this to help avoid the creation of taboos and has found that this method leads to a more open conversation between the sexes.

When discussing puberty, experts also encourage parents to teach their children to be more health conscious in general. Children making healthier choices, in food and physical activity, may be able to decrease the risk of early puberty. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, the rise in earlier puberty cases can be linked to childhood obesity.

Research found the increased amount of body fat can trigger the production of sex hormones, which propels young girls into puberty, long before they are emotionally prepared, according to Bloomberg.

Girls who mature at a younger age often receive unwanted sexual advances, which in turn causes low self-esteem, depression and even eating disorders, according to the Huffington Post. It is also difficult for young girls, in what is essentially a woman's body, to handle the increase of hormones and their emotional side effects.

Aside from emotional strain, the New York Times reported another downside to early puberty, when it found research concluding that girls who enter puberty earlier have an increased risk of breast cancer, "probably because it results in longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which can feed some tumors."

"Knowledge is power," Dr. Kristin Seaborg said in an interview with Channel3000.com. "Give kids the knowledge, give them the power to make healthy choices, healthy decisions."

EMAIL: awhatcott@desnews.com

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