3 ways for dealing with girl's early puberty
Puberty can be a difficult time for all kids but is a significant mental health threat to girls who mature earlier than their peers. Research published in Pediatrics by Jane Mendle and her colleagues noted that early puberty in girls is associated with a variety of mental health problems, including “...depression, anxiety, disordered eating, delinquency, substance use, and school failure or dropout.”
These problems have been well documented, but what happens to these kids as they develop into adulthood? Mendle’s study examined whether the adjustment problems of these kids are temporary or long-term, and the results are disturbing.
Girls who physically mature earlier than their peers not only have serious problems during adolescence, but these issues persist into early and middle adulthood. Mendle’s research concluded that problems with depression and antisocial behaviors continued with these women into their 20s and 30s. This is particularly important because today girls are physically maturing at a much earlier age than what they did 50 years ago.
Puberty is tough for girls to navigate, as their physical changes are more obvious than with boys. In Mendle’s research, about one-third of the girls began having their first period before age 12. These physical changes bring a host of psychological challenges. Kids are incredibly self-conscious about their appearance, particularly if they feel different from their peers. It’s tough to live in an ever-changing adult body with the maturity of a preteen and the challenges of hormonal turmoil. Girls’ maturity can elicit rather inappropriate responses from older boys and men, presenting yet another problem for these children.
These problems are serious and chronic but not inevitable.
Being aware of these risks allows you to do the following.
1. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Discussing mental health issues can be even more difficult than education about hormonal and physical changes. Get over it! Don’t let your uneasiness result in your child being vulnerable to serious psychological problems.
2. Do it right. These conversations should be explicit, frequent, and geared to your child’s developmental level. When you are done educating your child about her menstrual cycle and other bodily changes, engage in a conversation about her feelings. Share some of your own experiences, both positive and negative.
3. Anticipate problems. Prepare your daughter for dealing with possible intense and ever-changing moods. Help her identify coping strategies for managing peer rejection, ridicule, embarrassment and sexual advances from others. Help her understand that such reactions are normal and you can help her deal with these situations. These are ongoing conversations, with a realistic but positive outlook that encourages your daughter to feel empowered and good about herself.