Out of Sync

 


Puberty is difficult enough. Imagine going through it when you’re nine.

“Never underestimate the power of testosterone,” the endocrinologist told us. His tone was grave, no longer the there’s-nothing-to-worry-about jocularity he’d had when Alex was in the room, laughing and making jokes about successful short men. Now came the warnings, told in the prophesying gloom of a medical oracle. The pediatric specialist left and returned quickly with two chairs that he placed beside the examination table. We sat, my husband and I, the parents of the boy who exhibited symptoms of age beyond his years.

The doctor leaned against the counter. He was Michael J. Fox-short, confident despite his stature. He paused to look me straight in the eye, as if I would doubt his words unless he stared very firmly at me. “Do not, under any circumstances, ever leave your son alone with a girl,” he said, writing on his clipboard as he talked. “There could be serious consequences. A big complicated embarrassing mess that could affect his whole life. And yours. He can get a girl pregnant. He will not hesitate if given the opportunity.”

I laughed. Had he just said that my 9-year-old boy could get a girl pregnant? It was our fourth visit in a month to the Maine Pediatrics Clinic in Portland, but I was only just beginning to grasp what the doctors were telling me—that Alex suffered from central precocious puberty, a condition where sexual maturation happens before age 11 in boys and 10 in girls. The last thirty days had been a festival of tests: blood work checking thyroid, testosterone and DHEA levels, ultra sounds, MRI and CT scans, bone X-rays, and repeated physical examinations. “You are very fortunate that you homeschool,” he continued, looking at my husband, Eric, someone who was intimate with testosterone’s brawn. “It will limit his exposure to girls as well as limit potentially aggressive situations. Not to mention the teasing and his own comfort level.”

Age 9

The doctor paused thoughtfully, his pen suspended above his notes. I wondered if he was writing something like mother fails to see the seriousness of the situation. He went on. “You might want to consider therapy,” he told us. I pictured Alex, who was waiting outside the room, trying to eavesdrop like Samwise Gamgee beneath Frodo’s window. Therapy? For whom?

Sex, aggression and rage. My husband and I would hear these words again and again over the next weeks and months, always spoken in somber tones by concerned medical professionals. It was hard to accept that they were talking about Alex, a cute boy with straight blond hair, an impish grin, and thin, barely defined arms. He was a child—a fun, good-natured, happy, intelligent, rational child. We snuggled together and read J. K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkein books aloud, the Lord of the Rings trilogy twice. Alex played Sonic the Hedgehog and Zelda video games and took my computer apart for fun. He loved leaping out at me around corners, laughing when I screamed. I couldn’t see it, this idea of Alex as sexually dangerous. He couldn’t possibly do anyone harm, could he?

We knew Alex was advanced intellectually for his age. He’d learned to read at 4 and was reading at the high school level by 7. His math and science skills were exceptional. But he was so far ahead of kids his own age that we had major socialization concerns. Mothers called me to complain that Alex had made their child feel dumb. “Did he say Tyler was stupid?” I asked one angry mother, ready to speak to Alex immediately if he was being mean.

The mother stammered. “Well. Actually, I’m not sure what Alex said because Tyler says he uses long words on purpose just to confuse him.” Then there was the mother who called to say that Alex wouldn’t let her son win at Mario Kart. “Zachary was very upset and says that Alex cheats,” she said. I didn’t know what to say. Is it even possible to cheat at video games?

The story was different with girls. Alex sat and listened when they talked, offering to help them with their schoolwork. When I drove a pretty 10-year old to martial arts with Alex, he pretended he had to fall into her as I turned a corner, resting his head on her shoulder. They giggled and whispered. I thought of her now as the specialist planted images of pregnancy into my head.

The doctor knew of Alex’s lack of social skill with boys. “The gap between himself and children his own age will continue to widen both physically and intellectually,” he said, handing us brochures about precocious puberty. The front picture of one was of a boy standing alone in a school hallway leaning against a locker. Groups of children huddled in the distance, wary and taunting. “If Alex’s puberty isn’t stopped by medication,” he continued, “he will have the testosterone of an adult male just as his peers are beginning puberty. The embarrassment and frustration will be intense.”

I struggled to grasp the behavioral implications of precocious puberty. Internet research had answered many of my questions, but I couldn’t fathom why doctors were so concerned about Alex’s mental health. Why couldn’t we just sit him down and explain that he was too young to have sex? And why did they assume my son was going to lose his communication skills as he gained body hair?

At that moment, though, the question that most concerned my husband and I was whether Alex would reach his full adult height. Vague images of male and female growth charts from a college biology text flitted across my inner eye. When puberty ends, growth stops, too. Early growth spurts in children with precocious puberty make them taller than their peers, but they stop growing sooner and often end up considerably shorter. Sadly, height seemed to be where the foretelling powers of the doctor ended. “I can’t answer that,” he said, handing us the diagnosis sheet. “Your son will stop getting taller when his bones fuse, which for most males is 18, but for Alex could be as early as 11. We’ll know more in three months.”

The doctor reached for the doorknob but then turned back toward us. “More than concern for his height,” he said, “I’d consider preventing him free access to the Internet. Hardcore porn could be very damaging at such a young age, and boys with the level of testosterone your son has will obsess.”

Were we talking about Alex’s bone age, or his chronological age? I realized I’d never know for sure again. But, if his bone age was really that of a 14-year-old, wouldn’t looking at pornography be better than chasing girls and engaging people in violent confrontations, both of which the doctor had just alerted us could happen? Wouldn’t virtual sex be preferable to actual sex? Is this why we needed a therapist? To help us answer these questions?

♦♦♦

age 10

It started with pubic hair on the toilet seat. I’d stared at the small hairs, wondering why there were so many. I wouldn’t have questioned them if there hadn’t also been so much urine on the outside of the toilet bowl. This pubic hair belonged to someone with lax bathroom habits and poor aim, two characteristics I had long identified as belonging to Alex.

Then there was the razor episode, when Alex cut his lip trying to shave. I’d noticed a darkening of hair beneath his nose and on his cheeks, but I come from a very hairy family and hadn’t thought much of it. Alex, though, was deeply concerned and tried to remove the spattering of dark moustache hair without my knowledge. I didn’t understand his discomfort, and I explained to him that the hair hadn’t been nearly as noticeable as the bloody wound.

I called our primary care provider. She examined Alex and recognized the signs of early puberty, but she advised thorough testing and sent us to a pediatric endocrinologist. Precocious puberty is considerably less common in boys than girls, and an array of serious congenital anomalies, tumors, and diseases had to be excluded as an underlying cause. Eric and I worried about all that could be wrong with Alex and blamed ourselves for not recognizing the signs. But what parent looks at her 8-year old son and wonders if his testicles are an age-appropriate size? Alex was very modest, and I’d always respected his privacy.

When he was 7, Alex had gone to the emergency room for a twisted appendix testis. A urologist had examined him multiple times while monitoring the testicle’s bloody supply. Why hadn’t he noticed? It wasn’t until the endocrinologist took the “wooden balls on a string” out of his white coat pocket to measure testicular size that Alex’s biological age was revealed. My son’s testicles were the size of a 14-year-old’s and would grow to the size of a man’s in fewer than twenty-four months if we didn’t do something to stop it. That something was a medication, Lupron, which needed to be injected daily. But Alex was terrified of needles, and when the doctor mentioned the daily shots, Alex went still like a deer in headlights. The mention of the side effects made Alex’s eyes go wider, his body stiffer: Loss of body hair, shrinkage of genitals, depression, and acne. The list also included constipation, abscesses, swelling at the injection site, and weight gain, but I don’t think Alex heard a thing after shrinkage and genitals.

I felt sorry for Alex. He looked bewildered and vulnerable, sitting on the exam table in a hospital jonnie. He didn’t look capable of getting a girl pregnant or spending hours gazing at hardcore pornography. I wanted to protect him, and I couldn’t help wondering if this was somehow all my fault. Was it the McDonald’s chicken nuggets I’d allowed him to eat? Deep fried chunks of chemicals mixed with hormonally injected fowl? Was it the hormones in the milk? The cheese?

The doctor assured me that it was most likely genetic, and phone calls to family members soon revealed that my father had experienced precocious puberty back in the 1940s. No one would have thought to diagnose it back then, but my father remembered. He’d had a mustache at 9, beard growth at 10. I carried a precocious puberty gene.

Eric and I agreed to involve Alex in decisions about medication. This was Alex’s life, after all, and I wasn’t going to force him to submit to daily injections. I didn’t need to be an oracle to foresee the nightmare ahead of me. I remembered all too clearly having to administer eardrops for an infection, him screaming and kicking on the kitchen floor. Besides, how could anyone know the long-term effects of any medication with a surety that made it absolutely safe?

Alex didn’t ponder or hesitate, “No medication,” he said. Eric’s dad and several other family members disagreed. “It’ll be easier on Alex if you give him Lupron,” my sister said. Eric’s father warned, “Height for a man is like beauty for a woman. It opens doors.” At our next visit to the doctor, we told him of our decision and were comforted when he volunteered that his own son was going through precocious puberty—and that they’d also opted to forego medication.

♦♦♦

A few weeks later, I needed a babysitter and hired a young teenage girl from the neighborhood. When Eric and I came home, we were greeted by red faces and giggling. The next morning, the girl’s mother called and said her daughter wouldn’t be babysitting again. She refused to tell me why.

“What happened?” I asked Alex.

“Nothing,” he said, barely looking up from his computer keyboard. He didn’t stop typing. “I don’t know what her mother’s talking about. We played video games.”

“Something had to have happened.”

“Nope. Nothing.”

Eric and I stopped hiring babysitters.

Over the next few months, Alex’s appearance began to change drastically. His hair, always straight, started curling and morphed to a dark brown. His rounded baby face altered into that of a young teenage boy and sudden oily skin and body odor required constant reminders to shower. At 10, Alex decided he wanted to move his bedroom to the basement, as far away from us as he could get and still be in the same house. Eric said we should support his move, that Alex needed his privacy for contemplation.

Alex built his own desktop computer. There was no limiting his access to the Internet even if we’d wanted to—which we didn’t. Eric and I agreed that Internet pornography would allow Alex a sexual outlet that was the safest of all the alternatives. We didn’t tell Alex of our decision, but we chose not to control the pornography unless he used it inappropriately—sharing it with friends, or revealing his physical location to strangers. Looking back, I realize I knew nothing about boys and pornography. I’d never seen online porn and assumed that Alex was viewing still pictures similar to print magazines. It wasn’t until Alex was 12 that we learned that he’d been downloading video clips and visiting adult chat rooms.

Our technological proficiency was no match for Alex’s. There were rapid clicks of the mouse when either his dad or I entered his vicinity, and he often blocked the screen with his body. He lived in the gloom of the basement like a modern Gollum, protecting the privacy he considered precious. But I worried that Alex would think all women were similar to the thin and eager porn stars he googled, and I initiated hundreds of conversations with him about women and acceptable behavior in relationships.

age 12

I bought It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris, where the women and the men are overweight cartoon figures. This, I told Alex, is what most women look like. He glanced at the pictures. “I don’t think that’s accurate,” he said. Then he dropped the book on the kitchen table and descended to the basement. Later I noticed the book was gone. When I asked him about it, he was sitting in front of his computer with headphones on. He removed only one cup from his ear when he saw me and rolled his eyes at the question. “None of your business,” he said, four words that were Alex’s new signature ending to all conversations deemed uncomfortable. I could hear a tinny distant Pete Seeger singing about all the little boxes made out of ticky tacky that looked just the same.

Alex built a gaming computer and began writing his own programs. He learned HTML and Java and was obsessed with source codes and algorithms. He became a specialist in behind-the-scenes mechanization and executed the major part of his work when everyone was asleep. He never went to bed before 4:00 a.m., and his mood during the day, especially if his father was home, was surly. Whenever I lost patience with Alex’s ill-temper, he accused me of PMS, an enraging accusation that made me worry if I’d made the right decision about medication.

Hormonally and intellectually, Alex accelerated into maturity. The gap was so wide between him and homeschooled children his age that at 11, he gave up pretending he could sit in the privately taught science classes with other boys and begged me to enroll him at the University of Southern Maine. Too young for the university’s Early Studies program, I got permission for Alex to take classes in the computer science department as a part-time student. Eric went with him for the first few days of the semester, but it was obvious Alex didn’t want him there. Now shaving daily, Alex seemed to want his professors and new teenage friends to think he was a grownup orphan.

A local news station discovered that Alex was attending the college and called to do a story on him, and soon a video crew was following him to classes. For several months after the spot aired, Alex experienced local fame as strangers shook his hand and congratulated him for his hard work. His professors were equally impressed with his intelligence and maturity. Alex’s future was brimming with possibility.

We returned to the pediatric endocrinologist every three months. The wrist X-rays showed that Alex, at the chronological age of 11, was the biological age of 17. His bones had fused. He was 5-foot-7, one inch taller than his doctor. But the journey was only half over, and the real battle for Alex was just beginning.

♦♦♦

Alex wanted a girlfriend, but he wasn’t interested in any his age. Young girls looked like children to him. He lusted after the few females in the computer science department. When other parents told me how they’d force their 13-year-olds off the Internet at 9 p.m. and send them to bed, I didn’t say anything. They would have been shocked to know that I allowed my son free access to porn. We showed only a small portion of our home to friends. I worried about all the secrets.

“Do you want a therapist?” I asked Alex. “Do you need a therapist?”

“No,” he’d snarl. “I’m just fine.”

Pornography and programming languages occupied all of his nights. We knew this without Alex having to tell us. He missed classes because he couldn’t make himself get up. If he managed to go through the motions, he was explosive and obnoxious. I worried that his sister toddling around the house might be affected by his anger. I worried that she might go through puberty precociously, too.

So out of sync with his age and his desires, at 15 he found himself a 21-year-old homeless girl on Craigslist. Demonstrating considerable initiative, he took the bus and met her at a Chinese Restaurant in Portland. He bought her dinner and, because he was so desperate for a female, immediately thought he was in love with her. Now the words sex, aggression, and rage echoed in my inner ear in a way that I could process them. I had not thought my 9-year-old capable of all that the medical professionals prophesied, but now I could see that my 15-year-old was different.

Maybe we should have called the police and told them that an adult was molesting a minor, but would that have been the truth? How old was Alex, really? Besides, we didn’t think the relationship would last long. She didn’t have a license or a high school diploma. What kind of 21-year-old woman wants to date a 15-year-old boy?

We were wrong. Alex’s drive to engage in sexual acts gave him a staggering tolerance for a woman who didn’t share any of his goals or communicate with him beyond mundane conversation. Our strategy was to have the two where we could see them. To avoid Alex running off to Portland and having sex while we slept, Eric and I allowed the young woman to stay at our house, firmly invoking a no smoking rule. Multitudinous rolls escaped her faded scooped-neck tops, and I took her shopping and bought her several outfits, a bra, and shoes that she wouldn’t have to bend to tie. Then I encouraged her to apply for jobs and chauffeured her to grocery and clothing stores to fill out applications. I met with her mother, who lived in a low-income housing complex and survived on food stamps and government supplements. She begrudgingly agreed to let her daughter move back home.

Driven by testosterone and sexual fantasy, Alex wanted to spend every second he could with his girlfriend. Eric and I argued with Alex constantly about the relationship, usually ending with him slamming and locking his bedroom door. Two months into the relationship, she gave him head lice. Alex refused to cut his Arlo Guthrie hair and was careless with the treatment. When I told him that his girlfriend couldn’t come to our house until her lice was gone, he pounded his fists against the wall, cracking the wood of my bedroom door. Then he left on foot and headed into Portland, returning with stories of exploits that were too outrageous for us to believe. We knew he’d spent the day having sex.

age 15

Over the next few months, each time we tried to explain to Alex that he might have chosen his first girlfriend poorly, he called us elitist and threatened us with the loss of his filial love. When he realized that his insults no longer had the desired effect, he became physical, shoving me against the wall, his face inches from mine. “You’re the worst mother ever!” he hissed through clenched teeth, leaning his weight into me. “I can marry whoever I want. I don’t need your permission.” He pushed harder, desperate to intimidate me. He no longer looked cute and cuddly. “Any judge would emancipate me.”

Although I knew his biological age was 18, his strength surprised me. I didn’t falter but yelled right back in his face, remembering the advice of a dog trainer. “Right now you’re the worst son ever, and if you want to leave, leave,” I told him. His face twisted with emotion. “I can’t be around you anymore,” he shouted as he stomped away. “I just hate you so much!”

Several days later, Alex rushed at his dad shoulder first. I wasn’t in the kitchen where it happened, but the noise reverberated through the house’s core up the stairs to where I was watching The Little Mermaid with Alex’s sister.  I heard, “This behavior is unacceptable. You will not treat us this way.” The scuffle ended with Alex running out of the house in tears and Eric driving himself to the emergency room with a broken rib. Never underestimate the power of testosterone. There could be serious consequences.

 

Suddenly, therapy didn’t seem like an option but a necessity. There was no doubt—we we were in a big complicated embarrassing mess that could affect Alex’s whole life. And ours. I hoped we weren’t going to have to cut off anything of Alex’s to help him complete his journey through childhood.

I began calling therapists, but most were reluctant to work with Alex. They didn’t know enough about precocious puberty or its family dynamics. After several weeks, I located a man who reluctantly agreed to meet with us. I made it clear that the therapy was for Alex, that I wanted a safe place for him to discuss his issues. I wanted to be included as little as possible, but he insisted that we all come to the first session.

After listening to us talk for thirty minutes and expressing disapproval that we’d allowed Alex unsupervised Internet surfing, the therapist positioned himself to look directly at Alex, who sat at the end of the couch—as far away from us as possible. “Are you afraid of your father?” he asked our son, his hands clasped over his rotund stomach like a suspension bridge. “Do you feel that you need to defend yourself because your life is in danger?”

Alex saw a way to remove himself from all responsibility and took it. “Yes, I’m terrified of dad.”

Terrified of dad? We were dumbfounded. Eric is a patient and placid person, but the truth apparently didn’t matter. “You don’t have to go home,” he told Alex. “There are other options.” Alex took the therapist at his word and walked out of the office to go live with his girlfriend. He was 15. I reported the incident and the therapist to the Department of Human Services and called the police, who monitored Alex from the distance. Two-and-a-half difficult days passed before Alex returned home, his body language meek and his words—to me, at least—repentant. He barely spoke to his father.

Eric said no more therapists, but I insisted that Alex needed a trained adult confidante. The next therapist was a hippie who, after meeting with us as a family, turned to Alex and told him he lived in a teenage nirvana. What could possibly be the problem, he asked him? Perhaps out of intellectual curiosity (or a need to prove me wrong), Alex continued seeing the therapist for a few months before quitting because he thought the therapist might be “crazy.”

I was waiting in the parking lot of the therapist’s office one afternoon when Alex opened the car door and slid into the passenger seat. It was January, and the wind blew hard into me. Alex picked up the Snapple he’d left in the car and drank before speaking. “We sit there, and he wants me to close my eyes and balance my shakras,” he told me. “That’s what we did for thirty minutes, sit with our eyes closed.” Even as I questioned if Alex was telling the truth, I could feel myself get angry that the therapist charged $100 an hour to sit in silence.

“And get this,” he said, pausing for effect and balancing the bottle on his knee. “You’ll be happy to know you’re paying a guy to tell me it’s healthy to have sex with a lot of women before committing to one person, that I should start initiating new relationships immediately.”

You might want to consider therapists. We had. We wouldn’t again. There are a lot of screwed up people out there. Many of them are therapists.

♦♦♦

Alex was nearing 17, a sophomore in college. His testosterone levels were waning to that of a man in his early twenties, well on his downward journey from his sexual peak. He had reached a place in his life where he could once again think, debate, and plan. He was rational, and he wanted to live on his own for a few years before he left the state for grad school. Alex’s homeless girlfriend was long gone. He had his eye on several older women, but Eric and I weren’t worried. Although other parents questioned our decision, arguing that he was too young, we supported Alex’s need to live in Portland—away from us. “You know, mom, most teenagers are on drugs and really messed up,” he said. “I could get pot and alcohol without trying and I don’t.” He hugged me. “You’ve really got it quite easy, considering.”

We gave Alex a car, and he moved out for several months but returned regularly for food and conversation. At 18 he began dating another 21-year-old, Katie. The gap was closing. Katie enjoyed hiking, yoga, mountain climbing, and video games, and she was the first girl to tell me that Alex’s chronological age made her uncomfortable. A college student in a five-year math education program, she preferred her boyfriends older but was content that Alex looked the part with his full beard and adult physique. In addition, Alex would graduate with his degree in computer science at 19, several years before she finished her own program.

♦♦♦

age 18

Alex stood in the kitchen as I experimented with a new eggless veggie burger recipe. He talked as he dipped chips into salsa. A strict vegan, Alex had just apprised me of new research on latent carcinogens in poultry as well as the news that he was to receive the award for the university’s Outstanding Computer Science Student of 2010. Holding a corn chip midway to his mouth, he said, “I appreciate all that you do for me. I know I couldn’t have come this far without you.”

Maybe Alex was referring to my support of veganism, his award, or his homeschooling. But he might have also been referring to his passage through precocious puberty and the anger and confusion that we’d all endured because of it. I’d heard enough stories about other teenagers to know that the behavioral problems could have been much worse. We might have made it all the way to Mount Doom, but we’d made it out safely without losing an appendage. Or ourselves.

Alex had changed. His hair, receding slightly, was short and wavy, his arms were muscled and strong, and he no longer played Sonic the Hedgehog or Zelda, having long defeated Dr. Robotnik and saved the twilight princess. He played Warcraft III and games he wrote himself, but he still had that impish grin. Often he read to me, long excerpts from Al Franken and Richard Feynman books. He was still out of sync with his peers, teaching labs for the University of Southern Maine, tutoring daily, and grading for multiple professors, but precocious puberty and its effects on his life were waning. Like Frodo, Alex had emotional scars and many regrets. But he had survived, and, unlike Tolkien’s mythical Middle Earth hero, Alex’s journey was real—and his story goes on.


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About Helen Peppe

Helen Peppe is a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in artistic, literary, commercial, and educational publications nationally and internationally. Currently a participant in the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast Writing M.F.A. program, she lives with her family in Westbrook, Maine.

Comments

  1. this is ridiculous. the doctor says “don’t leave him alone with girls!” and you hired a teenaged girl to babysit.

    the doctor says “don’t let him watch porn, it could damage him.” and you let him have open access to internet porn.

    and then you let a 21 year old homeless woman move into yoru house so he could have some “in-house” to spare yourself the stress of him going to Portland to get it.

    and yes you should have called the police and told them an adult was having sex with your 15 year old…because i’m sure his birth certificate said he was 15 years old.

    would have been so willfully enabling if this had been your daughter rather than your son?

  2. I agree with everything A concerned pediatrician/physcian said.

    I would also like too ask you this: Why did you leave the decision whether or not to receive the injections up to your son? I mean seriously, what were you thinking? He was only 9! This is like asking a 9-year-old “Do you want to drive this car or not?” and doing whatever he says! You seem like a horrible parent and I am glad to say my own mother is nothing like you.

  3. People judged me harshly too, about my son’s behavior, although I was afraid to talk about our problems as openly as you do. I think you are brave, and if it makes other people feel better like it has me to read your story, it was worth it.

  4. This is just the story of “how we spoiled our child and blamed it on his puberty”

  5. Alison Dehetre says:

    It is sad to see the abusive remarks on this writer and her family. This reminds me of a story I had written about my son and his errors he made in life. Remarks were made towards my family as well as only to my son. I remember one day at work and I was so upset and a physician looked at me and stated, “these people do not know you or the whole story, what is written is only pieces and these people have nothing better to do than blog and be hateful”. Today, reading all of these comments brings it all back about how hateful people can be ona sad situation for a family. I read this story as a learning oppurtunity. I also realize that for the full story it would have to be a book. To read that this child started college at a young age and has turned out the way he has is incredible for him and the parents that raised him. Parenting is difficult and everyone judges you on how it should be done. I was shocked to read a couple of comments that Alex should have had a belt or paddle. That is called abuse and one needs to trend carefully when using those tactics.

    I appreciate the story and would be interested in reading the whole of the story. To the mother and father that raised this child, hats off to them for the parenting skills they choice.

  6. In all honesty, the problem of these parents has nothing to do with precocious puberty. Rather it has to do with dealing with a kid going through puberty in general. Sure, a normal 11 year old boy might not have the physical appearance of a grown man, but I don’t think these parents understood that without proper parental supervision, these days sometimes an 11-year-old and most obviously a 15-year-old boy will want to look at porn and have sex.

    The purpose of parents is to give your kids boundaries. Without them, they’ll go ape-shit like Alex apparently did. Freedom to grow is necessary, but to a certain extent; remind them that you are their parents, that you make the decision, that you have the ultimate authority. My parents did that with me, and guess what: I have a great relationship with them. I am thankful that they did not let me run wild and make decisions that I would regret in the future. I am thankful for their guidance, which these parents failed to provide for their child by letting him live in the basement in relative isolation and bringing a 21-year-old homeless girl into the house for their pubescent child’s pleasure (COME ON. WHO DOES THAT?).

    I think these parents did a huge disservice to their child by not providing him with therapy from the beginning, and I think it is stupid that they did not use medication (to me, it’s almost like refusing to give your kid vaccines because you’re scared they’ll become autistic… by the way that claim was totally falsified in case anyone is still stupid enough not to vaccinate their kids). We have medical developments for a reason: so that people do not have to live with disability. Precocious puberty is a disability, because it affects quality of life. But even if the parents decided against medicine – it is understandable, perhaps there were undesirable side effects – they should have had therapy from the beginning. Of course, I don’t know all the details of the story, but I have a strong feeling that many of these therapists didn’t want to deal with a rage-filled teenager and parents who, as the author said, wanted to be involved as little as possible.

    You’re a parent. BE INVOLVED. It’s your child, and your responsibility. Don’t try and push the responsibility onto someone who is not capable of handling it. You said it yourself: he was intellectually and physically mature, but he was not emotionally mature. You were supposed to be there for him, emotionally, and you weren’t.

    To the mother and father that raised this child, you messed up. Admit it.

  7. Ripping Action says:

    That’s right, Helen.

    All doctors are infallible. All you had to do was give him Lupron and all your problems would have been solved. All of these folks writing to tell you this know firsthand.

  8. I am Alex’s father. A lot has been said in these comments recently that is based on misunderstandings and which has been mean-spirited and unnecessary. I want to clarify some points.

    First of all, many people seem to be under the impression that Alex decided himself not to take Lupron and that we allowed that. This is not true, and it is not what the story says. The story says “Eric and I agreed to involve Alex in decisions about medication.” And also that we weren’t going to force him. This story is Alex’s story and only includes his part of it. Helen did not write about the angst-filled and agonizing decisions that were made behind closed doors. The final decision about Lupron was made by three people: myself, Helen, and our pediatric endocrinologist. We were in unanimous agreement not to use it. Helen foreshadowed this by writing our doctor “was Michael J. Fox-short, confident despite his stature,” because fear of “shortness” is the most common reason for using Lupron, and our doctor was vociferously not afraid of shortness. If that got by any readers Helen hammered the point home in a later paragraph, when our doctor, speaking as a parent, wouldn’t give the drug to his own child. Writing more than that on this topic wouldn’t have been appropriate because that would have been our story, not Alex’s. Had Helen or I or the specialist thought it best that he take Lupron, he would have. Alex didn’t want to have six teeth extracted, but our dentist said it should be done and it was. He didn’t want all his inoculations and immunizations, but he got them. This would have been no exception. Lupron at that time was believed to have many negative side effects, including permanent reduction of memory function and softening of the bones, leading to herniated disks and other problems later in life. Helen mentions many of these and then questions how many other side effects there are that are still unknown.

    Still we wonder if not using Lupron was the right decision. Helen certainly was not saying in the story that we made the right decision. She only writes what decision we made.

    Another topic people have commented a lot about is the pornography. Helen writes that we didn’t want to control his Internet pornography, but this decision came after years of trying to do just that. We fought to stop it all day, often every day, for years. But there is WiFi in every neighborhood and at every university. Finally we came to the conclusion that this was a battle we could not win and that the energy we were spending on it could be better used in other places. The original draft of this story had some explanation in it, and some description of how this battle unfolded, but it was taken out because Alex found it embarrassing. And this is his story, not a defense of our actions.

    Again, are we recommending other parents give up their fights? No. Are we saying we did the right thing? Absolutely not. At the time, it seemed like all we could do.

    And then there is the matter of the homeless woman. Again, we did not simply let this happen. For months the police, the courts, and an entire team of medical professionals who were not mentioned in the story were involved. We all agreed, after months of agony, that the approach we finally took was the least of a multitude of evils. Everything that happened over this period of time, and with all of these people, is left out of the story, again, to save Alex embarrassment.

    Once more, was it the right decision? This is the one that haunts me the most. I certainly wish it hadn’t happened, but it did, and I can’t undo it now. So it is in the story.

    We decided as a family to share a limited version of our story. Alex, in particular, thought others should know that there are happy endings to what may seem like a miserable and often unbearable time. It is surprising to me that after reading 5000 words about ten eventful years in a young man’s life, many of them wonderful, that some people think they have all the information needed to draw informed conclusions and comment negatively.

  9. Wow thanks for sharing what must have been a difficult journey.

  10. I think you guys did a wonderful job parenting.

    Please ignore the idiots. Do not waste time defending yourselves from the fools, remember after all how fat, stupid and unhealthy the majority of the people in this country are, and remember that they also exist on the internet.

    Your son’s accomplishments speak for themselves.

    It was a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it.

  11. One more thing: giving your son unrestricted access to porn was a smart move your part.

  12. Fhqwhgads says:

    “There was no limiting his access to the Internet even if we’d wanted to—which we didn’t. Eric and I agreed that Internet pornography would allow Alex a sexual outlet that was the safest of all the alternatives. We didn’t tell Alex of our decision, but we chose not to control the pornography unless he used it inappropriately…”

    “Maybe we should have called the police and told them that an adult was molesting a minor, but would that have been the truth? How old was Alex, really? Besides, we didn’t think the relationship would last long.”

    Eric, those quotes tell a completely opposite story from what you told in your comment. I can’t blame people for being upset about the original quotes. What you say tells a much more believable story, and a much more helpful one for people to read. If the added details were too embarrassing to the subjects of the story, then maybe it needed to be told with more anonymity, but definitely not without important details like the ones in your comment.

    In the end, I’m very impressed that you both stuck by your son and that things turned out better. That is an important message to tell the world.

  13. I lied, I did have one other thought I wanted to share. Beyond judgments of your actions as parents, I think it’s awfully courageous and generous of you (and especially Alex) to share this story. Hopefully other parents in a similar situation will find it helpful.

  14. You deserve a pat on the back for the parenting decisions you made. They weren’t necessarily conventional, and i’m not surprised that you are getting a lot of flack for them – but they were the right decisions for your son and your family.
    I’m 24, and while I didn’t deal with anything nearly as extreme in my own childhood, I can tell you that the brute force parenting that a lot of people here seem to think you should have exercised with your son does more harm than good. I was always mature for my age, and I deeply resented the way some adults felt the need to control me because I was technically still a child. it didn’t work, it just creates unnecessary friction.
    Kudos to you for taking your own path!

  15. I thought this comment was insightful (by Confusion on another site discussing this topic):

    “This is just your regular puberty story, displaced a few years. I fail to understand the alarmist responses of the medical professionals. Why would they worry about pregnancy with someone age 9, but not age 11? The parents seem to suffer from a ‘we are so special; our problems were so different’ syndrome. Why would allowing someone aged 11 to watch porn be a larger issue than allowing your child aged 14 to watch porn? Since when is a child hitting his dad at 15 different from one hitting his dad at 17?”

  16. Eric, I am glad that you have spoken up. I think what everyone needs to understand is that not all of the critical comments are meant to be mean-spirited. I don’t know about everyone else, but that surely was not my intention. My personal thoughts come from my experience and what I personally believe, and I think I am entitled to that. After all, allowing comments makes this a public forum, and not every comment you get will be “Great job. I’m glad everything worked out.”

    It’s very good that you put more thought into Alex’s problems than it seemed initially from the story, but like Fhqwhgads says, the quotes in the story simply do not agree with what you said. Consequently, it’s not really a misunderstanding by the readers but an omission by the author that has led to more critical comments.

    I still stand by my original comments, but of course I am glad that in the end everything worked out for your family.

  17. Hi!
    Very interesting story. My father was precocious as Alex. I was not.

    But I have to agree with other people that you both let too much control to your son.You said a life can’t be summarized in 5000. Well, it can for someone who had studied this.

    I like dog training, we share a lot of the mammalian brain with then and you learn a lot with that. Dogs need physical exercise for feeling good and to know where they are in the status chain. People need too.

    Children growing up are always “testing” their status and if they don’t get a firm and clear message at first, they will progressively “test the waters” and conquer new terrain.

    In boys, they will test the manhood of the father, and if they can, they will usurp it. I got a slap from my father the only time I face him shouting he had no “coj*nes” to slap me. It was slight slap, just symbolic, but I never forgot and had problems with my parents since. It’s difficult to explain, but if he had not I would have lost respect to him, it gave me an unconscious message of strength .

    What he did to Eric or his mother means he was in charge, in control, he was the boss of the house. Nothing to do with hormones. I had friends with very high levels of hormones in much better situation than those that had no rules, no boundaries that got puberty much later(I had a male friend that started puberty at 15!) .

  18. … And please don’t misinterpret my words… I know parenting is not easy, but we could always improve and learn something. Bye

  19. Thank you for your story. I applaud your decision to not take the “easy” (medication) route and do what parents have done for thousands of years. Be there, do your best, love your child.

    I would like like to thank you particularly for (what I assume to be) your purpose of writing this. To bring awareness of the condition. It is unfortunate that so many comments come from those that seem to think that you were looking for parenting advice or kudos (and are more than willing to give it to you).

    Best of luck to you and Alex!

  20. By high school, puberty is commonplace among boys, and every boy wishes that they had hit puberty early. To look like an 18 year old at the age of 13 is a blessing. Most of the situations in his high school years is stuff that all boys go through, although, to be fair, their mothers don’t usually find out. I don’t think that having a 21 year old girlfriend at 16 is so extremely strange to be described as “so out of sync with his age and his desires”. Especially, if you consider that she was, for all intents and purposes, a prostitute.

    The first few years of early puberty are extremely difficult, and it is the reason that I clicked this article. However, the rest of the article was not needed, especially as it got increasingly hysterical as the situations got increasingly normal(?).

    This is hardly an ordeal one has to “survive through”. Emotional scars are the scars from a ruined home life, from children who grow up without parents, or children who lose parents or friends. They are not the result of awkward situations that are caused by being more physically mature than your peers.

    I do not have the knowledge to approve or disapprove of your parenting skills. In my opinion, you did fine, but I obviously don’t have the credentials to give a qualified opinion. These are merely my observations as a young male, who was recently gone through high school.

    Also, @Jose, the only time my dad ever raised his voice or laid a hand on me is the only time that I ever made my mother cry. He was not abusive, he did not beat me, it was the only time he ever did it, but he made his authority absolutely clear. I know that violence is absolutely frowned upon in today’s society, but I think that at times the father has to show that he is the head of the household.

    • “…but I think that at times the father has to show that he is the head of the household.”

      Not only do I dislike the implied sexism of this comment, but I also disagree that parents should not be punishing to remind their children they are dominant. Parents should be punishing their children for merely disrespecting them as human beings–the parents–not reminding them they hold the authority.

  21. Thank you for the engaging tale. I know it must have been difficult to post such intimate details for all to see, and the criticism you’ve received from anonymous strangers cannot have helped. But I think you’ve done a lot to help people understand this medical condition, and its severe implications for a family. I’m glad this story has a happy ending.

    • Isn’t the whole point of the story that it isn’t really a “medical condition.” Her son is normal, despite having grown up a little different from peers of his own age. That’s what I’ve gained from it, at least.

  22. Hi, as a fellow sufferer from precocious puberty, it was nice to read your story and your family`s triumph over a hard period of your lives. It was also nice to read about another guy suffering from this, as all you hear about is girls having this condition even though boys suffer too. I too started puberty at 9 and by 14 I stopped growing. Initially it was very hard for me as I was the tall hairy duckling and was much more interested in sex than anyone my age. At 15 life got better as my peers started to catch up. I still looked older and more mature and girls took a liking to that. Many people treated me as an adult when I was 13, so I had alot of catching up to do to act like one. At 17, all my male friends and even some females ones grew past me. Like your son I ended up being 5’7 ( I`m now 24) and feel like I was robbed of some height as I am now the shortest guy in my family. I am even shorter than some of the girls. My dad is 5’11 and it hurts to know that I`m so much shorter. I`m now a short adult male who girls reject because of my height. Besides losing that, I feel as though I was robbed a few years of my childhood. I grew up way too fast. But such is life,if I could go back in time and get treatment I would. But I can`t so I have to work with that I have. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my story.

    • I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, but the average height for a male is 5’9″ to 5’10” — you’re not that far off. Height is as much in our heads as it is how far our heads are from the ground. The studies that have been done which compare (within the same professions) height to wages shows there’s no real strong correlation between a how much you make over similar peers compared to your height. Where there is a legitimate correlation in wages is your height *at age 16* — in our formative years, when we put so much focus and onus on it. Tall people who were ‘late bloomers’ made less money than people who were taller than them at 16. In other words, it’s very much in our heads.

      I think we, as a society, did a lot to harm teenagers in their formative years by putting such an onus on height. It either screws up our confidence, or gives an unmerited ego boost to those who did nothing to gain it. Instead of focusing on how tall kids are as they grow up, they should just be taught that height is a wide spectrum and that, at least for the male sex, it doesn’t matter of you’re 6’5″ or 5’6.” Either one of those numbers is completely normal.

  23. I think this article merely goes to show that “normal” is actually a wide spectrum across the human species. So long as there’s no medical cause for concern, this is just something that we have to learn to deal with if we experience it — and I say that as guy who hit puberty precociously, as well. Am I different because I hit puberty early? Yeah, a little, but everyone’s “different” because of their personal experiences — and there are plenty of other things in life a lot worse than hitting puberty before one’s peers.

  24. This was an excellent article, thanks for writing this. Full of intersting reflections.

    This must have also been uncomfortable reading for tabula rasists. Reading about the effects and behaviours caused, by the powerful biological impulses of early puberty in a 9yr boy

  25. Arielle says:

    Wow…what an amazing story. I was glued to the screen, just waiting to find out what happened next. You should be proud of yourself for raising such a fine young man. What an impressive person he is, and what great parents you and your husband turned out to be!

  26. wow… what a story. i must applaud the author for being brave enough to write and share this. and it is well written too.

    however, i get a since that she is someone flippant about the whole affair. like “all’s well that ends well!” and i worry that this would send a terrible message to other readers.

    ultimately i think this story is about horribly bad parenting decisions compounded by an unfortunate collection of horrible therapists, but all this being mitigated by dumb luck (or divine intervention).

    Alex and his family were lucky that all his homeless “girlfriend” gave him was lice.

    i would also like to point out that there no excuse nor justification for allowing a child (of any age) total unfettered access to the internet. that is no different than dropping your kid off in Las Vegas with an AMEX card and saying “enjoy!”. actually it is worse. the internet concentrates all that is beautiful and deprave into a backlit rectangle just inches from your child’s face. even the wisdom and maturity that comes with being an adult doesn’t prepare one to handle all the extremes that a web browser can offer up. but to a child who already has enough troubles to deal with!?!

    i worry that other parents reading this story who also feel like their child is more computer savvy than they are will also feel powerless, and thus be just as negligent thru inaction. but it must be made clear that parents have options! options that have no fulcrum upon computer savviness!

    even if your child’s calling in life is to be a computer professional or even computer genius, internet access in his/her bedroom is not required! not even required in the home really, computer classes at a school could suffice. also never let your child have internet access in a private bedroom! just having the computer in a “public” part of the house will help keep things in check. and should something less than wholesome come up on the screen. the parent can immediately discuss with the child why such things are there, why such things are bad, how to understand what they just saw… yadda yadda. and lastly, don’t be lazy! educate yourself!! plenty of resources available to parents to help them keep their children safe online.

  27. Close, but Midna, the Twilight Princess, isn’t the princess you save. It’s Zelda.

  28. David May says:

    Thanks for this article. I experienced precocious puberty starting at age 10, and it was never addressed by parents or teachers except to address my behavior — which was seen as too childish for a boy that appeared to be a young teenager. This was back in the 1960s when access to porn of any kind, however mild by today’s standards, was diffiuclt for an adult to procure, but boys will always find a source whether it be discarded skin magazines or what we used to call Tiajuana Bibles. So the decision about internet porn was probably the right one in that trying to block it would have been futile.

    What disturbs me is he pediatric endocrinologist statements about the Power of Testosterone. This ties into the recent GMP article about demonizing men’s sexulaity. If a boy’s precocious puberty is presented as a demon waiting to escape, it will no doubt be perceived as such by the boy and family in question.

    To my dismay, while still having the emotions of a child, I was occasionally perceived as a sexual threat by young women, one of them a substitute teacher that saw fit to ban me from her classroom — and to tell some of the girls why, something they delighted in sharing with me in as scathing tones as possible. When I complained later to my regular teacher (this in 6th grade) she said only: “I know, David. I’ve spoken to the office.” I never knew what went down behind the scenes, but I suspect the woman was forbidden to return to our school as I never saw her again. The irony of all this is, of course, that I’m gay and she was the farthest thing from my mind as I was crushing on the science teacher, Mr. Pierce.

    And being smart might be an asset in this situation, though I wasn’t half so clever as your son. Being smart enough to search for answers and knowing what questions to ask, and having a favorite aunt that was an Occupational Therapist who took an active interest in our lives (i.e., an adult I could talk to), made a difficult transition that much easier.

  29. I went through puberty at nine. Got my period at nine. By 10 I looked like 15 and by 13 I looked like 18. I am now 24. This kind of thing is an extremely complicated and confusing thing for a child that age to go through. I acted in all sorts of ways toward men older than me and I literally had no idea at the time that I was doing it until I became old enough to realize in hindsight what had happened. At least his parents thought things through at the time. Mine did absolutely nothing about that fact that I was having these experiences so young. It was almost as if they thought me having my period at that age had no effect on me besides causing me physical pain and discomfort a few days per month. It was hell for me and it’s not something I’ve really forgiven them for.

  30. what is chronic pain orthomol Flavon i can not take part now in discussion – it is very occupied, i will be free – I will necessarily express the opinion.

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