Puberty normally starts at around 10 in girls and 12 in boys and lasts for about five years, during which time all those physical, emotional and psychological changes kick-in that turn children into young adults. With all those hormones boiling away, puberty can be a challenging time for kids and parents alike. But what if those physical changes start happening earlier than usual? And what’s the best way to help kids who seem to be growing up a bit too fast?
In cases of precocious (which just means ‘early’) puberty, boys start developing at nine and girls at eight, and sometimes as young as six. That means a noticeable growth spurt, the appearance of pubic hair and, in girls, the development of breasts and the onset of periods.
Experts have speculated on some possible causes, ranging from stress to a high fat diet, but the simple answer may be that it’s just ‘one of those things.’ It’s much more common in girls than boys, though kids seem generally to be reaching puberty earlier. According to a study in 2000, one in six girls now reach puberty before eight. Precocious puberty is rarely a symptom of any other medical problem, but one possible consequence of an early growth spurt is that kids don’t eventually grow as tall as they might have done. Certain forms of treatment are available to delay and even turn back development for a couple of years. If you are anxious about this, talk to your doctor or paediatrician.
The changes that puberty brings aren’t just physical, of course. They’re also psychological, and younger children may not have the emotional maturity to deal with the sudden onslaught of new feelings, particularly if these are sexual. Again, if necessary, your doctor or paediatrician can advise on possible treatment, but in the vast majority of cases kids manage to weather hormonal storm, and aren’t adversely affected by the early onset of puberty.
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