Precocious Puberty

one minute puberty

As a medical term, precocious puberty describes puberty occurring at an unusually early age. In most of these children, the process is normal in every respect except the unusually early age, and simply represents a variation of normal development. In a minority of children, the early development is triggered by a disease such as a tumor or injury of the brain.

Even in instances where there is no disease, unusually early puberty can have adverse effects on social behavior and psychological development, can reduce adult height potential, and may shift some lifelong health risks. Central precocious puberty can be treated by suppressing the pituitary hormones that induce sex steroid production.

Precocious puberty can make a child able to conceive when very young; the youngest mother on record is Lina Medina, who gave birth at the age of 5. Many causes of early puberty are somewhat unclear, though girls who have a high-fat diet and are not physically active or are obese are more likely to physically mature earlier. Exposure to chemicals that mimic estrogen (known as xenoestrogens) is a possible cause of early puberty in girls. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a xenoestrogen found in hard plastics that has been shown to affect sexual development.

Early puberty is believed to put girls at higher risk of sexual abuse, unrelated to pedophilia because the child has developed secondary sex characteristics. Early puberty also puts girls at a higher risk for teasing or bullying, mental health disorders, and short stature as adults. Early puberty additionally puts girls at a greater risk for breast cancer later in life. Girls as young as 8 are increasingly starting to menstruate, develop breasts and grow pubic and underarm hair; these ‘biological milestones’ only typically occurred at 13 or older decades ago. Females of African ancestry are especially prone to early puberty.

Though boys face fewer problems upon early puberty than girls, early puberty is not always positive for boys; early sexual maturation in boys can be accompanied by increased aggressiveness due to the surge of hormones that affect them. Because they appear older than their peers, pubescent boys may face increased social pressure to conform to adult norms; society may view them as more emotionally advanced, despite the fact that their cognitive and social development may lag behind their appearance. Studies have shown that early maturing boys are more likely to be sexually active and are more likely to participate in risky behaviors.

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