Puberty can be a challenging phase for children as their body undergoes significant changes and developments which make them feel self-conscious. During this phase, young girls and boys start developing secondary sexual characters.
In girls, puberty usually sets in between eight and 13 years of age, leading to the development of breasts, body hair, acne, body odor and ends with menarche, or the first menstrual cycle. In boys, maturity begins between nine and 14 years of age, paving the way for the development of secondary sexual characters, facial hair and a deepened voice. However, physiologically, puberty starts when the pituitary gland releases hormones that signal the body to release more sex hormones – estrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males.
But, what happens when a boy or a girl enters puberty early? Can he or she handle the physical and psychological effects of early maturity?
Early puberty, also known as precocious puberty, refers to the onset of puberty before the age of seven in girls and nine in case of boys. While the physical effects of an early puberty are visible, its psychological and social effects remain hidden but have just as big an impact.
Here are some of the factors which could result in an early puberty:
Genetics: Many a time, genetic mutations trigger the abrupt release of sex hormones, which leads to an early onset of puberty. Moreover, children with precocious puberty have a sibling or a parent with similar genetic irregularities.
Obesity and diet: Obesity leads to an early puberty in girls as fat cells produce estrogen, which prompts breast development. In boys, however, it has been noted that obesity might delay the puberty, which is again a very stressful situation. Some studies have also associated diet with an early puberty. Girls who consumed aerated or soda drinks with high amount of sugar, or consumed sweet tea too frequently in a day, reportedly had their puberty three months earlier than the girls with similar parameters but drank two or lower servings of the sugary drinks.
Emotionally disturbing childhood: Many studies have reported that girls, who lacked or had insufficient parental support, had familial discord or lacked adequate love and support while growing, reached early puberty.
Race: Although the reasons are unknown, it has been observed that African-American girls hit puberty a year earlier than the white girls.
Puberty is a difficult phase during which a child undergoes significant emotional upheavals, such as confusion, anxiety and depression. But when it comes to those children who reach maturity early in life, the situation can be even more challenging. Such children find it increasingly difficult to adapt to the changing social roles. For this reason, children with precocious puberty often struggle with mental health ailments.
In girls, early puberty can cause overwhelming stress as they might feel unsure or embarrassed about themselves. They find it difficult to cope with deviant peers, face perilous and nerve-racking social environments and experience turbulence in their relationships. Similarly, even boys reaching early puberty also develop negative body image, anxiety, and interpersonal relationship troubles which might progress to depression. Children with precocious puberty may perceive themselves to be mature enough to try alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex, which might cause debilitating mental agony later.
Even though well-defined treatment protocols are available for the prevention and management of precocious puberty, it can take a toll on the children and their parents’ parenting skills.
If you notice that your child, or someone close to you, is showing the signs of early puberty and needs professional help, you can reach out to Sovereign Health. We specialize in addressing various psychological and psychiatric problems, often leading to serious mental health disorders, by using innovative treatment methods. You may call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-973-7164 or chat online for more information on our mental health centers as well as mental health programs.