Early puberty concerns

Saturday, April 27th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A story for parents of little girls. They are growing up faster than ever before. And there are all kinds of theories about why.

News on Six medical reporter Tami Marler tells us, that a normal age for puberty is now a hard thing to pin down. When you're young, you can't wait to grow up so you can drive. But studies show young girls are growing up faster than they used to, starting puberty at between 8 and 9 years old, compared with 11 in past decades.

Experts call it "precocious puberty" and research has blamed everything from hormones in the food we eat, to social surroundings. About 90% of cases of 'precocious puberty' in girls are called 'idiopathic', they can't be explained, and they generally take care of themselves.

But anytime a child rides the hormone roller coaster too early, you should take notice. Dr Burhan Say, "You have to study. You can't say 'wishful thinking, everything will be alright.' You can't let it go." Dr. Burhan Say is Director of Genetics at The Chapman Institute. He says 10% of precocious puberty cases are caused by dozens of more serious disorders, like brain trauma and genetics.

And girls are ten times more likely to go through it than boys. Dr Say: "But in boys, we worry more because they have more chance that the cause will be some sort of abnormality like tumors. In both boys and girls, we worry if it is developing fast." Dr. Say says you should take your child to the doctor if he or she is developing too quickly, breast or genital growth within a matter of weeks or just a few months. "The fast one, then you worry about the tumor; what we call hormone excreting tumor."

Say also recommends seeing a doctor if a girl starts developing before age 8, a boy before age 9. Physical changes are hard enough to understand, experts worry even more about the psychological effects of growing up too soon.

Experts say to talk with your child's pediatrician at the first signs of puberty, regardless of age. A doctor can help you choose the right language to explain what's happening to your child's body.