Preparing for Early Puberty

Your guide to the ages and stages of development

Sharon Bahrych

Courtney was 11, active, athletic, and loved soccer. Slightly overweight, Courtney dreaded having to dress and undress for gym class in the girl's locker room. Courtney looked more like a 16-year-old than her actual age, and she couldn't stand the stares from other girls whose bodies hadn't begun to change. She wished she didn't look so different.

Puberty is tough enough, but it's especially rough for those who show early physical signs of development. According to a Time magazine cover story (October 30, 2000), puberty, which technically begins when a girl first begins to menstruate, has fallen in the last century and a half from age 17 to 13. Experts believe this downward trend is largely due to better nutrition (undernourishment tends to delay menstruation). But even the earlier outward signs of physical sexual maturity, such as breast buds and pubic hair, are appearing at younger ages. The article states that among Caucasian girls today, 1 in every 7 starts to develop breasts or pubic hair by age 8. Among African Americans, for reasons nobody quite understands, the figure is nearly 1 out of 2. Other causes of early puberty still remain a mystery, but one factor stands out clearly: girls who are overweight tend to mature earlier.

How can parents help their early bloomers through the rough spots? The following ideas should help:

1. Be frank, open, and communicative with your daughter about what to expect.

Let her know what types of physical changes she will go through and what to expect with her first menstruation. There are many helpful books that you can use that will help relay the information and make it easy for your child to understand. Allow her to feel comfortable asking any questions she may have. Let her know about the other changes that she will go through: being interested in boys, striving for independence, formation of abstract thinking, and eventually forming her own moral values and ideas about life. Tell her that you look forward to walking with her through these stages.

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May 25

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