An article in today’s New York Times cites a study by the American Academy of Pediatrics that suggests boys are showing signs of puberty between six months and two years earlier than in previous research. Historically, 11-½ was the general age puberty began in boys.
The article asks more questions than it answers. The causes are uncertain. Possibilities the Academy mentions (but are unproven) are changes in diet, less physical activity and other environmental factors.
The article ends with equal uncertainty about the implications for boys.
Some experts said that while earlier development in girls can be worrisome because girls may be treated as more socially mature than they are, implications for boys are uncertain.
“With girls, the first signs are obvious, and social ramifications are much more pronounced and they’re negative,” said Dr. William P. Adelman, associate professor of pediatrics at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the Academy of Pediatrics committee on adolescents. But early-maturing boys “get called on more in school, tend to be better athletes. I’m less likely to get a parent of a boy saying, ‘Oh my gosh, my boy’s developing — he’s too young,’ ” Dr. Adelman said. More common is, “My boy, he’s a freshman in high school, his best friend is 6 feet already and he’s 4-11.”
Dr. Frank M. Biro, a puberty researcher and director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said there are some common implications for girls and boys.
“If kids are looking older, it means that parents should be monitoring them, because that superego doesn’t kick in until late teens or early 20s,” he said. “The kids need a hand. Know what they’re doing.”
The last paragraph reminds us of one of the very first articles to appear on The Good Men Project site. Called “Out of Sync”, it was a family’s struggle with a son who had gone through puberty at age 9. At that time, it was named as a disorder that the doctors called “central precocious puberty.” The article begins:
“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?
The entire story is here. The experience with their son was not something the parents went through lightly. And yet, if 9 years of age for puberty becomes the new norm, as the new study suggests it might, what then? The parents in the above article were warned of “sex, aggression and rage” and told, “You may want to consider therapy.” The mother and father looked at the doctors in disbelief. Will there be a generation of parents being told the same thing?
All the more reason for open, honest communication about difficult issues as early as possible.
photo: nophoto4jojo / flickr