Recent studies found that girls are beginning puberty at a younger age. In a phenomenon that is being referred to as “the new puberty,” girls as young as seven years old are starting to develop breasts, grow pubic hair, and show other signs of early puberty. Yet, these girls’ emotional and social development often doesn’t keep pace with the physical changes they are experiencing.
Studies show that young girls who experience early puberty are far more likely to have symptoms of depressions and anxiety and they are more likely to engage in sexual experimentation and behaviors at younger ages. This is largely because these girls are facing societal pressure to behave more maturely even if they still have the emotional and intellectual maturity of eight-year-olds, as opposed to that of teenagers.
Studies show that young girls who experience early puberty are far more likely to have symptoms of depression and anxiety and they are more likely to engage in sexual experimentation and behaviors at younger ages.
Early Puberty and Sex Education
Another serious problem with early puberty in girls is that so many people equate puberty with sexuality.
For these girls, early puberty is a physical change, one that shouldn’t be treated any differently from losing baby teeth, getting taller, or outgrowing their clothes. Children are used to physical changes, but they aren’t used to people and society putting their physical changes into a sexual context. It exposes them to something they’re not ready for and it is hard on their emotional health.
This is especially true of children in special education. Sex education for special needs kids is extremely important, but it becomes even more important when people inadvertently begin sexualizing girls based off of their fast developing bodies. Early puberty can be hard on any young girl, therefore having consistent support from family and school educators is extremely important.
So as parents and educators of special needs kids, we need to make sure to separate sexuality from puberty. We need to communicate with our kids so that they don’t feel the need to fall into these societal pressures just because of their physical body changes.
It is very possible that the “new puberty” will become the new norm. Whereas the cutoff age for puberty in girls once started at nine years old, we may have to move that down to seven or even six. Hopefully, parents and teachers will begin to understand that these are merely physical changes and that we have to let young girls continue to be just that…young girls. We shouldn’t shy away from things such as sexual health prevention, but we need to make sure we aren’t giving our children the wrong message by having “the talk” with them merely on the basis of physical body changes.
Read more about having “the talk” with your special education kids here!
NPR: How Girls Are Developing Earlier In The Age Of “New Puberty”
The New Puberty by Louise, M.D. Greenspan & Julianna, PH.D. Deardorff
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At James Stanfield, We Think You Should Know: Though it’s shocking to imagine 8 year olds going through puberty, and the thought of having such young children engage in sexual activities is frightening, at Stanfield, we think it is extremely important to talk to our special needs kids about social boundaries, social distance, relationships, and sexuality. That’s why we offer the Circles Video Curriculum. Circles features several programs about sexual boundaries, social distance, relationships, and personal safety. We don’t necessarily have to have “the talk” with them at 8, but it never hurts to educate them about their own personal safety and social distance. To learn more about Circles, click here!
The child who is ‘left behind’ most is the one who leaves school without transition readiness.
Dr. James Stanfield, Ed.D.