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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Puberty - When?


"Pimpfants is more than a name, it's a movement!" reads the company's Web site. "Our clothing bridges the generation gap between parents and kids, allowing babies and tots everywhere the opportunity to hit the playground with fresh gear and street cred."

So, as we move deeper into the new millennium, we are learning more about the causes and effects of certain changes in our children, their health, and their behavior. Enter Pimpfants -- it's gangsta/pimp/ho' fashionwear for the innocent little bundle of joy in your special nursery 'hood. This is a new clothing line for infants and toddlers made by three 30-something white guys in Oregon. According to an interview, two of the three are fathers with young kids. (Ray Richmond,, April 26 2006)

What do some of the clothes say? “Jr. Pimp Squad” is emblazoned on a basketball outfit. The line of tank tops is called “Baby Beaters.” One shirt sports a phrase that refers to incest, not to forget the ever-popular "My Mom Is a MILF" T-shirt. (Brenda Zurita, "Pimpfants: A Clothing Line for the Innocent Made by the Depraved," Concerned Women For America, May 3 2006)  Shocking?  

Let's move on to news from the city of brotherly love. Philadelphia aesthetician Melanie Engle, whose specialty is eyebrow shaping, is no stranger to odd requests. Still, nothing prepared her for being asked by one client to book a bikini wax appointment for her 8-year-old daughter. “The first thing I had to do was try and stay calm, and not yell ‘What are you thinking?’ ” said Engle. “This wasn’t about the girl developing hair early — it was the mother’s obsession with wanting her daughter to be a supermodel.” (Vidya Rao, Today,, August 13 2008) This mother is not alone in her obsessive behavior.

Of course, we all know that the image in the media is of a very young girl looking sexy, in heels, push-up bra, short skirt and often blonde hair, doesn't allow a child to explore who she might be. "Throughout U.S. culture, and particularly in mainstream media, women and girls are depicted in a sexualizing manner," declares the American Psychological Association's Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, in a recent report. The report authors, who reviewed dozens of studies, say such images are found in virtually every medium, from TV shows to magazines and from music videos to the Internet.

Plus, some experts say, "looking good" is almost culturally inseparable for girls from looking sexy: Once a girl's bought into this concept, she's hopped onto a consumer conveyor belt in which marketers move them at will. (Stacy Weiner, "Goodbye To Girlhood," The Washington Post, February 20 2007) 

Celia Rivenbark is one mom who has hit her breaking point with the shrinking fashions. She wrote a book called, Stop Dressing Your Six Year Old Like a Skank. "The moms are buying it, the dads are buying and maybe on some level the parents think, 'Oh that's cute, that's harmless, that's innocent' -- but I don't think it is," Rivenbank said. "The children are wearing them down."

And psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere warns that how a child dresses as young as age three can have serious consequences. "You can be doing real damage to your child," Gardere said. "They are forming their taste at a very young age. They can hurt their futures. They can hurt their reputations, their chances for success." ("Are Young Girls Dressing Too Revealing?" Good Morning America, ABC News, October 27 2007)

Deborah Roffman, a Baltimore-based sex educator. "I think it begins by 4 now." While some might argue that today's belly-baring tops are no more risque than hip huggers were in the '70s, Roffman disagrees. "Kids have always emulated adult things," she says. "But [years ago] it was, 'That's who I'm supposed to be as an adult.' It's very different today. The message to children is, 'You're already like an adult. It's okay for you to be interested in sex. It's okay for you to dress and act sexy, right now.' That's an entirely different frame of reference." (Stacy Weiner,"Goodbye To Girlhood," The Washington Post, February 20 2007) 

Influences of the Young Girl Fashion Movement

In the United States, TV's influence is incontestable. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, for example, nearly half of American kids age 4 to 6 have a TV in their bedroom. Nearly a quarter of teens say televised sexual content affects their own behavior.Children are more vulnerable than adults to such messages.

Stacy Weiner of The Washington Post relates that such sexual content is growing: In 2005, 77 percent of prime-time shows on the major broadcast networks included sexual material, according to Kaiser, up from 67 percent in 1998. In a separate Kaiser study of shows popular with teenage girls, women and girls were twice as likely as men and boys to have their appearance discussed. They also were three times more likely to appear in sleepwear or underwear than their male counterparts. ("Goodbye To Girlhood," The Washington Post, February 20 2007)

And Now, New Findings on Puberty

Puberty is defined as "the period in children's lives when they experience physical changes by which their bodies eventually become adult bodies that are capable of reproducing." Puberty is triggered by hormone signals from the brain to the ovaries and testes (gonads). The ovaries (in girls) and testes (in boys) respond to hormone signals from the brain by producing a range of hormones that stimulate the growth, function and change in various parts of the body, including the reproductive organs, breasts, skin, muscles, bones, hair and the brain.

To take a long-term look at the impact of puberty and other factors on breast cancer, researchers under Dr. Frank Biro, director of adolescent medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, enrolled 1,239 girls between the ages of 6 and 8 from three sites in the U.S.: New York’s East Harlem, the greater Cincinnati metropolitan area and the San Francisco Bay area.

The study, published in medical journal Pediatrics, revealed a surprisingly large bump in the number of girls going through puberty between the ages of 7 and 8. For example, the researchers found that 10 percent of 7-year-old white girls had some breast development as compared to 5 percent in a study published in 1997. Similarly, 23 percent of the 7-year-old black girls had started puberty as compared to 15 percent in the 1997 study. (Linda Carroll, "Growing Up Too Soon? Puberty Strikes 7-year-old Girls,", August 9 2010)

What Is Causing the Early Puberty?

Nobody’s sure exactly what is driving the declining age of puberty. But the rise in obesity could be at least partly to blame, says Dr. Biro.

Another finding from the study may back that concept up. Biro reported, the rate of early puberty was much lower in the San Francisco group: 7 percent among white 7-year-olds from northern California versus 14 percent among Ohioans of the same age. Among black 7-year olds, 27 percent of Californians hit puberty early as compared to 31 percent of the New Yorkers. Northern California’s temperate climate fosters more outdoor activities and the emphasis on healthy foods results in a better diet. (Linda Carroll, "Growing Up Too Soon? Puberty Strikes 7-year-old Girls,", August 9 2010)

In a 2007 report for the Breast Cancer Fund entitled “The Falling Age of Puberty in U.S. Girls: What We Know, What We Need to Know,” ecologist Sandra Steingraber argued that unfettered access to computers and TVs over the last 30 years has led to an increasingly sedentary lifestyle among kids in the U.S. and beyond. Active kids produce more melatonin, a natural hormone that serves as the body’s internal clock and calendar. ("The Environmental Effect on Puberty," Scientific American, July 17 2008)

Other external causes for early onset of early puberty are blamed. For example, in some ares of the USA, local water supplies show higher levels of hormones (either testosterone or estrogen, or both) because of medicines that people consume or throw away (e.g., "the pill"). Some milk products also have hormones, because some dairy farms use steroids or hormones when raising their cows.

Beef and pork and poultry producers in the USA frequently inject hormones into their animals to make them bigger before slaughter, so that they can earn more money. When people eat non-organic or at least non-hormone meats, they also get some of these chemicals in the bargain. 

“Shortening childhood means a shortening of the time before the brain’s complete re-sculpting occurs,” says Sandra Steingraber. “Once that happens, the brain doesn’t allow for complex learning.” She adds that the brain can only build the connections used to learn a language, play a musical instrument or ride a bike before it gets flooded with the sex hormones that come with the onset of puberty.

More surprising, perhaps, is that across several studies, researchers are finding that one factor accelerating pubertal onset is a father's absence. Darby Saxbe reports, "Women whose parents separated before they reached the age of 6, for example, were nearly twice as likely to report younger-than-average menstruation as those who grew up with both a mother and father at home." ("Early Puberty: The Dad Effect," O, The Oprah Magazine, December 16 2008)

"We know kids from divorced families are more likely to experience teen-age pregnancy, drop out of school or become delinquent. But we have no idea whether divorce causes that," said Professor Bruce Ellis, who, along with a colleague from New Zealand, studied the the issue and recently published their results in the journal Developmental Psychology. "This study can show the effects of different exposures to divorce." Family stress and poverty are possible triggers. (Jeff Harrison, University of Arizona News, September 9 2008)

There may be other environmental factors at work, too, says Dr. Stanley Korenman, an endocrinologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. For example, Korenman says, environmental exposure to estrogens in plastics, chemicals and foods has been going up. “And estrogens do stimulate breast development,” he adds.

Effects Of  Early Puberty

As reported, the studies have linked girls in early puberty to increased risks of breast cancer.

Observers also say eating disorders seem to strike younger today. "A decade ago, new eating disorder patients at Children's National Medical Center tended to be around age 15," says Adelaide Robb, director of inpatient psychiatry. "Today kids come in as young as 5 or 6."

According to an article in, Dr. Biro said doctors are also worried about the overall psychological health of girls who hit early puberty. Not only have these girls been linked eating disorders, but also they have been linked to poor self-esteem, depression, as well as cigarette and alcohol use and earlier sexual activity. (Amanda Gardner,, August 10 2010)

Links have also been reported to pregnancy and poorer performance in school—"small effects," says University of London professor Jay Belsky, PhD, a leading child development specialist, "can have big implications."

"For the 11-year old that looks like she's 15 or 16, adults are going to interact with her like she's 15 or 16, but so are her peers," Dr. Biro said. "It doesn't mean that they're psychologically or socially more mature."  

Dr. Biro also said that some studies show that children who mature early don't grow as tall as those who don't.

It seems as if everywhere you turn these days--outside schools, on soccer fields, at the mall--there are more and more elementary schoolgirls whose bodies look like they belong in high school and more and more middle schoolers who look like college coeds   --Michael D. Lemonick

"The average age for adoring the impossibly proportioned Barbie has slid from preteen to preschool." --Sharon Lamb
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