For kids, early puberty can cause physical and emotional problems. They include:
Short stature. While kids with precocious puberty are often tall for their age, some wind up short as adults. Why? Once puberty is over, growth stops. Since precocious puberty ends earlier than normal puberty, these kids stop growing at an earlier age -- and sometimes, the end result may be a shorter height than they would have otherwise had.
Behavior problems. Some studies have found an association between early puberty and behavior problems, particularly in kids with developmental delays. However, many experts consider the evidence weak.
Early sexual activity. Although parents might worry, there's not strong evidence that kids with early puberty are likelier to be sexually active at a younger age.
Stress. Even when it's happening to average 12-year-olds, puberty can be a confusing time. It can be all the more stressful for younger kids with early puberty. They might feel awkward about looking different from their peers. Early menstruation can be unsettling for girls who are 9 or younger -- or who are developmentally delayed. Parents can help by educating their kids about what changes they should expect.
Other risks. Some studies have found a link between early puberty in girls and a slightly increased risk of breast cancer later in life. However, the evidence is not clear. More research needs to be done.
Early Puberty: What Parents Should Remember
As a parent, it's easy to worry about early puberty. There's no doubt that you should take any signs seriously. If your child shows signs of early puberty, they should be evaluated by a pediatric endocrinologist.
But kids and their parents should not view precocious puberty as a fearful medical diagnosis.
Here are a few other things to remember:
Symptoms that might seem like early puberty are often unrelated and resolve on their own.
When a doctor and parents decide treatment is necessary, it is usually quite effective.
Most kids with signs of early puberty do fine, medically, psychologically, and socially.