Early Onset Puberty: What Parents Need to Know

(Notes from an interview with Saleema Noon on BCTV Global Noon News, July 2003)

The early onset of puberty in girls has been a hot topic in the news lately. In fact, recent research indicates that, by age eight, nearly 15% of Caucasian girls and 48% of African-American girls have entered puberty. There’s no doubt about it, entering puberty can be traumatic for some girls, especially when you’re only eight years old. But with awareness and support, this transition doesn’t need to be stressful. We must also remember that a girl who enters puberty early doesn’t necessarily start to menstruate early—the average age of menarche is still about 12.8 years old. So puberty is not so much accelerated as it is elongated.

Why is puberty happening at such a young age? We don’t know, but it has been linked to body weight, chemicals and hormones in our foods, plastic containers, and genetics. Whatever the reason, the important thing is that we, as parents and educators, help young girls deal with this transition. Generally, no medical treatment is recommended for early puberty. Instead, parents can:

1. Start talking about puberty changes before they even happen. That way, girls will know exactly what to expect and will know that these changes are a healthy part of growing up, whether you’re eight or thirteen.

2. Remember that puberty is not just about menstruation. Puberty is a stage in life that can last up to 10 years. Girls need to be aware and educated about all of the related changes.
3. Teach the difference between a pad and a tampon, stressing hygiene, proper use and disposal.
4. Advocate for early “body science” education (starting at kindergarten) that teaches boys and girls together at schools.
5. Make sure dad and brothers are aware of puberty/menstruation as a normal part of growing up. Teach them that it is not OK to make fun or tease or treat a girl differently because of what she is experiencing.

For more tips and other resources go to www.balancetv.ca and click on “Specials”, then “Early Puberty”.