Blossoming Too Early?
American girls are reaching puberty younger than ever. Why?
Preparing Little Girls for Womanhood
While researchers speculate on reasons for the drop, parents must contend
with broaching the subject of sexual development with children while they are
still in grade school. According to Helen Egger, M.D., a child psychiatrist in
Duke University's department of psychiatry, once you've noticed signs, it's
important to let your child take the lead. Egger's own daughter started showing
signs of puberty at 8, so she gave her daughter some books about puberty geared
to pre-teens as a catalyst for discussion. Then she waited for her daughter to
approach her with questions. "Our daughter wanted to talk about some of the
topics that the books brought up, such as menstruation and breast
development," Egger says. "She recognized on her own that her body was
changing before her friends', and that naturally led to discussions about how
she felt about that."
When it comes to talking about sex education with young girls, Egger
suggests that parents proceed with care. "Even though these girls' bodies
are changing, they are still very much young children and emotionally are
probably not ready to talk about some of things you might talk to, say, an
11-year-old about," she says. "Start by talking about the physical
changes your daughter is going through, without going into details about having
sexual relations. Most 8-year-olds haven't even considered dating, let alone
One bonus to talking to a child early about puberty is that she is more
likely to be open to a discussion at 8 than she will be at 10. "When my
youngest girl started to enter puberty at 8, we talked a lot about the changes
she was going through -- like getting hair under her arms and the beginnings of
breasts," says Mary Weisnewski, the mother of two girls, 11 and 16.
"But once they reach 10, they clam up and don't want to talk about these
things with their parents -- they'd rather talk with their friends."
Jennifer Haupt is a freelance writer based in Bellevue, Wash. She
specializes in parenting issues and other lifestyle topics. Her writing has
appeared in Parenting magazine, Parenting Insights, Seattle Magazine,
Seattle's Child, and online at several news outlets.