Studies have been done in recent years focusing on the development of girls, and the results have shown that girls are developing at a younger age these days than they used to. However, new data shows that boys are demonstrating this same pattern of growth.
The study took place between 2005 and 2010, and in comparison to medical textbook standards, it found that boys are physically maturing anywhere from six months to two years sooner. The research results specified that African-American boys demonstrated signs of puberty at an average of nine years old, and 10 years old for Caucasian and Hispanic boys.
Marcia Herman-Giddens of the University of North Carolina’s School of Public Health headed the study. She also did a study of female development back in 1997. She notes that the former was over a much longer period of time because genital maturation in boys isn’t as easily identifiable as in girls. While girls begin to grow breasts and start having a menstrual cycle (both obvious clues), boys exhibit pubescent signs with enlarged testes and the production of sperm.
There were more than 4,100 participants in the study, with the boys ranging from age six to 16. The boys’ genital size and appearance of pubic hair were recorded, and the researchers assigned each participant’s data to one of five stages: Stage One is pre-puberty, and Stages Two through Five range from the onset of puberty to adult maturity.
While doctors say that the results of this study are not necessarily a reason to be concerned, the possible causes of earlier puberty spawn a variety of unhealthy theories. Herman-Giddes claims the changes are too fast, as genetics take hundreds to thousands of years. For the average age of puberty to drop so quickly, doctors point the finger at the environment the children are growing up in. A lack of exercise, junk food, TV, chemicals, and obesity are some of the theories because they have the potential to interfere with normal hormone production.
There is no conclusive evidence yet as to why this is occurring, and doctors aren’t sure that it’s even a negative thing. Regardless of the reason, it is important for parents to be observant of their children’s development, especially for the purpose of knowing when to start the “birds and the bees” discussion. Furthermore, parents should remember that while their child may be physically maturing, the psychosocial maturation process remains slower, so interaction should remain age-appropriate.
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