Have you been wondering what’s going on with girls…why they are growing up so fast? It turns out that what most people have been observing with some unease is no myth: the early onset of puberty for girls is indeed accelerating. A study published this month in the journal Pediatrics reported that more girls are now reaching puberty (indicated by breast development, not menstruation) as early as 7 years old. About 23% of black girls, 15% of hispanic girls, and 10% of white girls begin puberty by age 7. Early puberty appears to be connected with obesity, as well as with a diet high in meat and junk food.
Why is this a problem? According to lead research, Dr. Frank Biro, “girls who develop earlier may be more likely to get breast cancer and engage in risky behavior like sex than girls who go through puberty later. They also are more prone to depression.” He adds that “For the 11-year old that looks like she’s 15 or 16, adults are going to interact with her like she’s 15 or 16, but so are her peers.” But, he points out, “It doesn’t mean that they’re psychologically or socially more mature.”
As the school year begins, and there is less opportunity for exercise, we might want to add family walks, or sports, to our list of things to do to keep our kids healthy. The busyness of the school year makes it hard to prepare healthy snacks and meals, but a little more forethought as we scan the shelves at the grocery store might be in order. This study just gives us one more reason why Americans need to improve our families’ eating and exercise habits.
I had the pleasure of observing one of our parent educators teach a workshop yesterday. During the hour or so that I was there, a very interesting question came up. Our educator was discussing healthy dating strategies with the parents, and one parent raised her hand and inquired, “What do you do when your teenage daughter believes negative attention is better than no attention at all?” (In other words, what do you do if you see your daughter dating guys that treat her poorly, simply because she feels that any boyfriend is better than none?)
Great question – and our educator handled it beautifully. His answer was twofold. First, surround your teenager with positive attention. Second, help her identify the consequences of negative attention.
Positive Attention: Parents, first you may want to ask yourselves why your teenage daughter is seeking out attention in the first place. Can you see where she feels as though positive attention is lacking in her life? Make an effort to fill that void. Learn her love language (see Gary Chapman’s book here) and use it to encourage her. Make an effort to spend time with her. (If you feel very busy, start with small chunks of time – a car ride here, a cup of coffee there.) Choose one of her hobbies or pastimes in which to take special interest. Cheer her on. Take stock of the media in your house and the body and relationship messages that are being communicated to your daughter. Does something need to be eliminated?
Identify Consequences of Negative Attention: Your daughter may not be able to see the consequences of negative attention in her own life, but she may be able to identify it in her peers or in the media around her. As you spend time together, ask open ended questions (not directed at herlife) that will help her see the truth. Questions like, “Why does SoAndSo spend time with her if they aren’t friends?” or, “Why do you think That TV Character keeps dating him?” Listen to her answers first, and withhold that parental advice until she seems open to hearing it. Perhaps you will be able to transition into more personal topics and give personal advice after you’ve gained her trust as a good listener.
Parents of tweens and younger – it’s never to early to start surrounding your kids with positive attention! The sooner they recognize and appreciate that, the sooner they will shy away from the negative!
One question we come up against during our parent presentations is, “How young is too young to start talking with your kid about sex and sexuality?” The answer? As long as they’re asking, they’re never too young. The trick, of course, is to be age appropriate.
Why do I bring this up? Well, I found this article today (another shocker), and despite the fact that it was full of the kind of info we usually post on our blog, it caught my attention because of a book it references: Too Sexy, Too Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.
I read an excerpt today and came across two interesting anecdotes. The first, of a mother reassuring her 7 year old daughter who was feeling insecure about her body image, and the second of a teacher, probing a kindergarten boy as to why he had drawn a rather sensual picture of a woman.
I’m not sure what conclusions the author will come to, but I think I want to read it. Take a look at it yourself on Amazon. Let us know what you think.
A great article appeared this week from Connect with Kids.
Points of interest from the article include the fact that teenage sexuality, according to some studies from the Center for Disease Control, has actually decreased, thanks in part to abstinence programs and positive messages about self-esteem.
The article also includes some tips for parents, so scroll all the way to the bottom!
I recently spoke with a parent who had been very conscientious about talking to his daughters about boys and sex. He said, “I wanted them to know how special they are and that they don’t need to use sex to get love.” Then he said, “Unfortunately, I kind of dropped the ball with my son.” I asked what he meant, and he said that the topic of sex had just “never come up.”
I think the problem inherent in the above situation is clear: how can we be so concerned about protecting our daughters from boys that we ignore our sons — who are becoming the very men from whom we try to protect our daughters? Eventually, we will need to shatter the myth that women are the gatekeepers of healthy sexuality in our society.
Right now, though, I understand that it is difficult to discuss sex with your teenage son. So here’s one way to start: “A lot of stars in the media are getting pregnant. Have you ever thought about what you would do if you got a girl pregnant?” Then some follow up: “What do you think most guys in your school would do?” “Where do you think the problem begins? When a girl gets pregnant, or before that?” “What problems does sex bring to a relationship even without a pregnancy?” And now, it is your turn to set the record straight. Clearly state your expectations for your son regarding sexual activity.
While recently at a high school presenting abstinence to a class of about 25 seniors, I asked the question, “How many of your parents have seriously talked to you about sex?” A weird silence came over the room as students looked around the classroom to see only two people raise their hands. The students with their hands down lowered their heads as if they were ashamed to admit that their parents hadn’t talked to them. Houston…we have a problem!
Okay, let’s be honest parents. Talking to your kids about sex is not the most comfortable thing in the world. As a matter of fact, wearing your high school football jersey or cheerleading uniform that fit you 30 pounds ago may be more comfortable. However, if you’re waiting on them to come to you to spark the conversation, you can count on being a grandparent first. Continue reading Can We Talk?