The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in the November edition of its journal, Pediatrics, reports that early puberty is not jut happening to girls. Boys are also entering puberty earlier than they used to do so.
How early are boys beginning puberty?
Historically, boys were expected to begin puberty at 11 ½. The large study showed signs of puberty in boys between 6 months to 2 years earlier than that. That means that boys could start puberty as young as 9.
How did researchers determine the onset of puberty in boys?
The study evaluated the onset of puberty based on the presence of enlarged testes and the presence of pubic hair. The study's Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, said she wanted to include production of sperm and ejaculation, which is a measure considered in Europe. If the thought of studying that makes you squirm a bit, you are not alone. Researchers said, "Yikes, we don't want to ask about that!" So they didn't. Further proof that Europe is a little more okay with these things than Americans.
Why are boys arriving at puberty earlier than they used to?
The researchers did not try to answer that question, but possible reasons they suggest include changes in diet, less physical activity and other environmental factors. Experts said that without further research, implications for boys are unclear. More research is needed.
Does race play a factor?
The AAP release said, "Overall, African-American boys were more likely to start puberty earlier than white or Hispanic boys. Study authors say the causes and public health implications of an apparent shift toward a lower age of puberty onset for boys is unclear and warrants further research."
What does this mean for me as a parent?
Parents need to give "the birds and the bees" talk earlier than our parents did, and you should also be prepared to explain your child's body changes. This doesn't mean that you'll have to do so while they're watching Word World, but it's coming, and sooner, not later. Doctors say it is good news that puberty seems to be ending at the same time it used to end, and that boys are still seemingly reaching sexual maturity at the same age as they have in the past. While I'm happy that we don't have grown men in 8th grade, the idea of puberty lasting longer than it used to doesn't seem like great news, either.
I am certainly glad that this study was released this morning, the day after my daughter attended her first tween night. Parents need to know that hormones are coursing through those tween bodies, to be prepared for the resulting drama and to discuss what is appropriate and acceptable behavior.
How big was the study?
The study was fairly large, encompassing 4,100 boys aged 6 to 16 in 41 states.