More Girls Entering Puberty at a Very Young Age

Filed under: Development: Big Kids, Development: Tweens



More and more parents are reaching for "Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret" when choosing a bedtime story for their daughters, thanks to a rise in the number of girls entering puberty early.

According to CBS' The Early Show, a study published last year in the journal Pediatrics reveals that 15 percent of all Caucasian girls are developing breasts and other outward signs of maturity by age 7. The rate among African-American children is even higher: 23 percent of girls are entering puberty early. The study looked at 1,239 girls and the results are double that of a 1997 study.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton is a medical correspondent for CBS and she tells The Early Show that the effects of precocious puberty are not "cute."

"You have to remember, this is occurring at a time of childhood development where all girls and children want to do is fit in and look like the person sitting next to them," Ashton says. "It can generate a lot of fear. It's not cute. Adults can look at it and say, 'Oh, how cute.' It's really an adult body, a developing adult body in a child's age."

The emotional effects of entering puberty at such a young age are many and varied, she adds. Girls could suffer from depression, increased peer pressure and low self-esteem -- and early sexual activity.

"They are known to participate in sexual activity in an earlier age because of this," Ashton tells The Early Show. "Also, they can be shorter because we know that estrogen is one of the key hormones in puberty that closes off the growth plates and girls will not be as tall as if they went to puberty in a later age."

So, what's causing the shift? There are a number of factors to consider, but Ashton says childhood obesity could be one of the culprits. Body fat generates the female hormone estrogen -- and estrogen is one of the body's triggers for initiating puberty.

The effects of early puberty don't end when a girl is young. It can cause issues as they grow up, as well, including an increased risk of breast and uterine cancer.

Ashton recommends that parents who see the signs of early puberty in their daughters should seek the advice of their pediatrician.

"This could be a very frightening process for a child as well as a parent," Ashton tells The Early Show.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.