Reaching puberty is a rite of passage that we’ve all been through, but children nowadays are reaching it earlier than ever before — a trend that has both health experts and parents alarmed.
Precocious puberty, which is the appearance of secondary sex characteristics like pubic hair or breast growth before age 8, or the onset of menarche before age 9, impacts at least 1 in 5,000 U.S. children, and the rate is on the rise. Even in the last three decades, children (particularly girls) are maturing at younger and younger ages (precocious puberty is 10 times more common in girls than in boys).
Puberty, Once The Norm At Age 15, Now Occurring In 7-, 8- And 9-year-olds
In the 19th century, the onset of menstruation occurred around the age of 15. Now the average age of the first period, or menarche, is around 12. The time during and before puberty is one of rapid development and change, which is why even months matter when it comes to first menstruation. Before menstruation, girls will show beginning signs of development, such as breast “budding” and growth of pubic hair.
These signs are now becoming unsettlingly common among 7-, 8- and 9-year-old girls, to the extent that many health care providers, rather than labeling these children with a diagnosis that something is wrong, have simply changed the definition of what’s normal but is it really “normal” for girls to mature at such a young age?
There are more questions than answers in the case of precocious puberty, but what is certain is that girls are developing earlier than they have even 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
One study in the journal Pediatrics revealed that by age 7, 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls and 2 percent of Asian girls had started developing breasts, with researchers noting:
“The proportion of girls who had breast development at ages 7 and 8 years, particularly among white girls, is greater than that reported from studies of girls who were born 10 to 30 years earlier.”