Puberty is a normal part of growing up. However, boys and girls who experience it earlier than their peers often struggle with social and emotional challenges.
For some, early maturation can cause lasting problems. A 2018 study found that girls who entered puberty at a significantly earlier age than their peers are at a higher risk of developing mental health concerns, including depression.
"For some girls, puberty can throw them off course, and the emotional stress can linger even after the challenges of puberty wane," said Jane Mendle, a psychologist and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Pediatrics.
How can parents help ease the transition?
Open Communication Among Parents And Children Is Key
In a recent article by NPR, experts highlighted the important role that parents play in helping children who enter puberty early deal with the changes in their bodies. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist, said that parents can talk about sexual development with their children by age 6 or 7.
Meanwhile, boys have also been found to be developing much earlier than the previous generation. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that boys today start puberty by age 10, six months to one year earlier than their parents.
This might cause them to feel self-conscious or embarrassed. Cosette Taillac, a psychotherapist, recounted the story of a 9-year-old who stopped playing soccer when her body started developing because she did not want to dress in front of her teammates. Taillac added that in similar cases, parents should step in.
"My client's parents worked with the soccer coach to create more privacy for her when dressing for team events," she shared.
Some children, however, would not want to discuss what they are going through. The child psychologists said that this is often a sign that they are confused and overwhelmed. Books can also help provide "a common language" to open up discussion between parents and children.
However, at the end of the day, distraught kids need one thing: empathy. Parents should be emotionally available to their children to offer support and provide comfort during the transition.