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Today, that number has plummeted to less than 13, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
The trend has been attributed to the epidemic of overweight children and a greater exposure to pollution, which does bad things to developing bodies and accelerates the timing of a girl’s first menstruation.
She argues that children are speeding into puberty before they’re ready, and that this early maturation is both the symptom of bodily damage that has already occurred and the probable cause of health consequences they may expect in the future.
Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence.
“[Like] I had failed kindergarten or something.” Her mother says, “She had to be very mature a lot of the time, but on the flip side, she was all into Disney and still a little girl.”Unlike Rebecca, many precocious kids lose their interest in Disney and little-girl things and begin to act, well, the age of their bodies.
The mother of one 8-year-old wrote that her daughter “is a very sexual being.
Although she does not by definition understand what ‘sexiness’ means, she exhibits a very particular awareness of her body and wants other people to notice her.” Another mother observed, “It is really as if my 6-year-old has a 12-year-old trapped in her body.”In girls, puberty is commonly defined as breast development, growth of pubic hair and menarche, the beginning of the menstrual cycle.
At the turn of the 20th century, the average age for an American girl to get her period was 16 to 17.
“Just a generation ago, less than five percent of girls started puberty before the age of 8; today that percentage has more than doubled,” note Dr. Julianna Deardorff in The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls., man-made chemicals found all over the place: in plastic food and beverage containers, carpeting, shampoos, insect repellents, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, plastic toys and in the steering wheels and dashboards of most cars.
Along with higher rates of depression, younger girls who enter puberty earlier than their peers are more prone to obesity and drug abuse.
When children enter puberty, their brains undergo changes—brought on by the flood of pubertal hormones—that “makes them especially attentive to what other people think of them and especially responsive to social reward,” says Steinberg.
Environmental toxins also cause many girls to develop breasts at an earlier age than in the past.
Compared with 20 years ago, American girls today begin developing breasts anywhere from one month to four months earlier, a significant difference.
“You encounter a young lady in the mall and she looks like she’s 15 years old,” says Biro.