Puberty Is Beginning Earlier: Why?
Puberty is the transitional stage between childhood and adolescence and is characterized by a series of changes in the bodies of boys and girls. In recent years, it’s been observed that puberty is beginning earlier and earlier and has even advanced by three months per decade since 1970.
In general, puberty begins between 8 and 13 years of age in girls and between 9 and 14 years of age in boys. What has begun to concern many is that it’s occurring at younger and younger ages. Cases have been seen in which girls as young as 6 years old have already begun to undergo the changes of this period, which could have some complex consequences.
Here, we’re going to tell you a little more about it, so you know what to watch out for.
What is puberty?
Puberty is the period of life in which the bodies of boys and girls mature sexually.
In women, this development begins with the development of the breasts, specifically with the appearance of the mammary bud. In general, this sign appears around the age of ten or eleven, although this depends on several issues. About two years after the first pubertal sign in girls comes their first menstruation, and on average, this happens around the age of 12.
In the case of boys, the process takes a little longer to start and this usually happens around the age of 12. It’s considered that by the age of 15 or 16, most boys have completed puberty.
Puberty is beginning earlier and earlier
According to some research conducted in the last ten years, the early onset of puberty is a tangible phenomenon that happens gradually.
According to a study conducted in the 1990s, the average age of onset of puberty in girls was found to be 9.96 years, and this was one year ahead of the cut-off points established by previous research.
Other more recent studies, conducted in the United States and in Europe, have determined a progressive advancement in pubertal onset with respect to previous years and also, that this phenomenon occurs in different countries and ethnicities around the world.
For its part, Danish research conducted in 2018 found that boys and girls today go through pubertal changes at earlier ages than their parents. In females, the advancement of menstruation reaches 3 months and in boys, the changes in their voice occur up to a year earlier than what previous studies indicate.
Causes that could explain why puberty is beginning earlier
Over the last century, scientists have tried to determine the reasons for the advancement of sexual maturation. In this regard, we can’t say that there’s a single cause to explain the whole phenomenon, but rather a set of factors tending to precocious development. These are the following:
- Childhood obesity: Excess body fat can accelerate body development and advance puberty by up to three years from the expected range.
- Growth spurts: Some studies have concluded that boys and girls who grew rapidly throughout their first 5 years of life were more likely to start puberty at earlier ages.
- Traumatic events in childhood (history of abuse, maltreatment at home, major losses): It’s been determined that the experience of very stressful events in the early stages of life accelerate the onset of puberty.
- Environmental factors: Factors like stress, malnutrition, and certain unhealthy lifestyles.
- The consumption of certain medications during pregnancy: It’s been suggested that the consumption of acetaminophen during pregnancy could be related to the earlier onset of puberty in girls, although this data needs to be corroborated with more studies.
- Contact with certain chemical substances during pregnancy: Some cosmetic and hygiene products that contain phthalates, parabens, and microplastics could interfere with fetal development and condition the onset of puberty in the future.
Why is the earlier onset of puberty a cause for concern?
When puberty begins earlier, it can have consequences for both the physical and mental health of boys and girls.
On the one hand, early sexual development limits the natural growth of children. In general, after 2 years of menarche in females, height “stagnates”. Therefore, the girl may be shorter than she should be, according to her parents’ genetics.
On the other hand, the emotional impact of earlier puberty is significant, as these children undergo changes in their emotions, sensations, and thoughts, which are not in tune with those experienced by their peers. Even in their individual sphere, boys and girls aren’t psychologically prepared to face such changes in their bodies.
It’s also been shown that precocious puberty is related to an increased risk of suffering certain diseases in adulthood, such as type 2 diabetes(in men) and migraines (in women).
About the fact that puberty is beginning earlier, we can say…
All parents may worry about their children developing earlier because the changes that occur at this stage are enormous. Therefore, it’s key to know when to expect them and when not to expect them.
In addition, it’s important to maintain a relationship of trust and closeness with children from the time they’re young. Not only to be aware of any emotional or physical changes but also to provide our support and accompaniment during the process.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Molina, T. (2009). Desarrollo puberal normal: Pubertad precoz. Pediatría Atención Primaria, 11, 127-142. En internet: https://scielo.isciii.es/pdf/pap/v11s16/original1.pdf
- Justiniano, E. H., Seara, C. P., & Matarranz, R. Y. (Eds.). (1994). La Pubertad (Vol. 1). Ediciones Díaz de Santos.
- Soriano-Guillén, L., & Argente, J. (2011, May). Pubertad precoz central: aspectos epidemiológicos, etiológicos y diagnóstico-terapéuticos. In Anales de Pediatría (Vol. 74, No. 5, pp. 336-e1). Elsevier Doyma. En internet: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1695403310005096