Why Are Girls as Young as Six Hitting Puberty?

I was in Eighth Grade when my period finally started and my self-perceived late development was an endless source of angst. The other girls in my class had breasts and bras -- why didn't I? Girls today have a different problem -- they're starting to develop in elementary school, according to a recent article in The New York Times, and that's causing a whole different kind of angst.

Girls as young as 6 and 7 are showing signs of puberty. A large 2010 study, cited in the article, found that 10 percent of white girls, 23 percent of black girls, 15 percent of Hispanic girls and 2 percent of Asian girls start developing breasts by age 7. The result? Children who look like teens, and parents who worry about that their daughters will a hard time negotiating childhood in womanly bodies.

Experts aren't sure what is causing the early onset of puberty, but are looking at factors such as rising rates of obesity (overweight girls are more likely to mature earlier), chemicals in the environment (hormone disrupters such as flame retardants and "estrogen-mimics" like BPA) as well as family stress (growing up without a father or with a non-biological father can be related to early development).

It isn't really possible to stop early puberty once it starts -- exercise in the only intervention that may delay early development. Experts in the piece recommended giving kids (and parents) information and emotional support to minimize any angst. Tracy Sioux, the mother featured in the NYT article, has spent the last three years trying to figure out why her daughter started puberty at age 6 -- and how to stop it. But after the article came out, even Sioux said on her blog, Girl Revolution, that:

"It hasn't been as emotionally or developmentally disastrous as I had feared…it is what it is, [and] we're not likely to stop it, at least not before this crop of girls develop into teenagers. The only thing to do is accept it, and dare I say, even embrace it."

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