Puberty may be arriving earlier for boys, according to new research that places boys on par with girls in this area.
It also raises broader questions. What are the social ramifications for kids who mature early; are they different for boys than they are for girls? And what does this mean for parents?
Any trip to a schoolyard can be evidence enough that many kids seem and look more mature than we were at that age.
Some further confirmation came from the research, published this weekend in the journal Pediatrics. The study drew from the records of more than 200 pediatricians across the country between 2005 and 2010 concerning more than 4000 boys.
Analysts found that, on average, the onset of sexual maturity occurred between ages 9 and 11 1/2. African-American boys were shown to develop at slightly younger ages than white and Hispanic boys.
Overall, it was between six months to two years earlier than older studies had shown.
What researchers did not tackle, however, were the causes and ramifications of such a change. They also didn’t address how the changes might affect social dynamics.
Unproven theories abound for the causes, with some pointing to chemicals in our plastics, others the obesity epidemic, and still others the hormones in our food supply.
Many of the same reasons have been cited for the earlier onset of puberty for girls, too. Recent research has shown that a significant percentages of girls are beginning to develop breasts by age 7.
As for the ramifications, pediatricians have said that the main takeaway right now for parents is that we should be ready to communicate with and be supportive of maturing kids earlier than we might have expected.
We should also be on alert for the bullying and teasing that can come the way of kids who mature earlier.
If this is a generational shift, however, might the en masse earlier puberty mitigate the schoolyard cruelty.
Some experts think this answer is different depending on gender.
One, Dr. William P. Adelman, a member of the Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescents told The New York Times that “With girls, the first signs are obvious, and social ramifications are much more pronounced and they’re negative.”
For boys, he said, the repercussions are likely to be more positive. They “get called on more in school, tend to be better athletes. I’m less likely to get a parent of a boy saying, ‘Oh my gosh, my boy’s developing — he’s too young.’ ”
Do you agree?
Have you noticed earlier puberty or are you concerned about it? Is there a higher level of parental anxiety for girls who mature earlier?