How to Manage Early Puberty, Girls and Development

Girls as young as 7 or 8 years may now be experiencing signs of early puberty. What are the psychological consequences of reaching puberty so early?

Higher Rates of Depression and Anxiety
Children who experience early puberty have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to their peers. This effect is found consistently in girls, but findings involving boys are less clear. Perhaps most disturbingly, the enhanced risk of depression and anxiety may stretch all the way into the college years.

Greater Risk of Substance Abuse
Girls and boys who experience precocious puberty may also be at greater risk of abusing substances. Smoking in particular seems to be much more common among children who mature early compared to their on-time or late-maturing peers. Some studies indicate that the increased substance abuse risk extends into the early twenties.

Earlier Sexual Activity
Reaching puberty early may also put a child at risk of earlier sexual activity compared to his or her peers. Some studies indicate that girls are also more sexually promiscuous when they develop early. Unfortunately, early sexual activity and promiscuity is associated with an increased risk of teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy comes with its own host of psychological consequences, including a higher drop-out rate, a lower lifetime income and an increased risk of having more children while still a teen.

Lower Self-Esteem and Body Image
Girls who mature early also tend to suffer from lower self-esteem and poorer body image than their friends who mature on time or late. Early-developing boys seem to avoid these negative effects.

Poorer Academic Outcomes
Finally, some studies find that girls who experience early puberty do poorer in school compared to their peers. Their decreased academic achievement may extend through the high school years and possibly beyond. Like the self-esteem and body image findings, the findings related to academic outcomes seem to be restricted to girls; boys do just as well academically regardless of when they hit puberty.

Precocious puberty is typically defined as the appearance of puberty symptoms (e.g., breast growth, hair growth and/or menarche) before 7 or 8 years of age in girls and before 9 years of age in boys. Given the many negative consequences that have been associated with early puberty, your worries are understandable. Thankfully, though, children are resilient and there are a number of steps you can take to help your tween cope with precocious puberty.

First, contact your child's pediatrician. The doctor may test for physical causes for the early onset of puberty, such as issues with the adrenal glands, ovaries or testicles. Biological causes for early puberty are particularly common in boys, while girls are more likely to experience psychological causes. If your child's doctor identifies a biological cause, it may be treatable with medication.

You should also focus on your child's psychological well-being. Many experts recommend that you help her cope by refraining from making comments about her appearance. This is not to say that you should ignore the physical changes - doing so could actually be harmful and confusing to your tween. Rather, you should place special emphasis on her internal qualities and non-physical achievements during this vulnerable time. In other words, focus on building her self-esteem.
You can also help your tween cope with precocious puberty by starting a dialogue
about the changes she's experiencing
. Make sure she knows you're available to talk at any time, and aim to be as accessible as possible. This may mean evaluating and altering your own commitments, at least for a while. You might also offer her readings about puberty that are written for children.

Finally, some psychologists believe that stress may play an important role in causing the negative effects of early puberty. Therefore offering resources to help your tween cope with stress may lessen the impact of precocious puberty. Auszeit vom Stress...... mit Wellness: Finden Sie Hotels und Angebote ab 99.
Psychological Factors That May Contribute to Precocious Puberty

A number of studies have found that girls may be experiencing puberty earlier than girls did in the past, a phenomenon called the secular trend. Although it may be natural to think about biological factors that cause precocious puberty, in fact many psychological or psychosocial factors may contribute to a girl experiencing puberty early.
Precocious Puberty and Dad's Absence

If a girl doesn't have her biological dad living with her, she is likely to reach puberty earlier than girls who have their dad present. In fact, some studies suggest that the longer dad has been absent, the sooner puberty will begin. Some researchers believe the presence of a stepfather or boyfriend in the house is even more important to precocious puberty than biological dad's absence. In other words, it doesn't matter if dad is gone, but rather whether someone has taken his place. They theorize that unrelated males create pheromones - odorless airborne chemicals that may affect hormonal functioning. These pheromones might cause a girl to develop more quickly. This theory has been supported in animal studies, and there is some evidence of it in humans, as well.
Family Conflict

The more a family fights, the earlier a girl in that family is likely to reach puberty. Although researchers are not quite sure why this occurs, prolonged stress of any kind - physical, social or psychological - seems to speed up girls' maturation. Therefore, conflict between parental figures (whether married or not), dysfunction in the family as a whole and less warmth in a family have all been found to be related to precocious puberty in girls.
Parental Mental Disorders

If a parent - particularly mom - has a mental disorder, there is some evidence that her daughter will be likely to have an earlier puberty than her peers who have a mentally healthy mom. Why might the mental health status of a parent matter? Like family conflict, having a parent with a mental disorder can be a source of intense, chronic stress. If stress causes faster maturation, it follows that parental mental health could indeed affect timing of puberty in a child.

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