It has as much to do with your divorce as with hormones in the food.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: No doubt about it, girls are getting their periods earlier and earlier -- and this has been going on for decades. I was just shy of my fifteenth birthday when I started menstruating back in the 1970s. My daughter was only ten when she got her first period this year. Since she wore pull-up diapers at night for many years until her bladder matured, I feel like I had only a brief reprieve between buying diapers and pads!
While the Internet is crawling with posters that quickly point to hormones used to increase meat, chicken, and dairy production as the basis for this phenomenon, there is a far more complicated answer -- part of which might make you feel a bit uncomfortable.
Let's start with eating in general. Kids eat too much of everything, not just hormone-laced food. Carrying excess body fat raises estrogen levels that can lead to early puberty. Keeping girls active with low body fat levels is one way to delay this process. I'll put money on the fact that a high-carb, high-fat, vegetarian diet that causes one to be overweight is probably more likely to produce early puberty than one that includes bovine estrogen in hamburgers.
Next, look no further than your neighborhood bus stop or the ads on TV for another puberty stimulus. We live in a highly sexualized culture. There are images everywhere of youthful, nubile models and actors in highly suggestive poses. When our brains take in this visual stimulation, our bodies have a reaction. If someone cuts a lemon across a room, you salivate. If someone assaults you with sexual images, you have a different kind of reaction. For children and tweens, the sexual images in our media function as a signal to the pituitary gland that they have left the nest and are out in the field ready to reproduce. So, their body steps up its natural process.
And speaking of sexual signals, some experts think early puberty has less to do with food hormones and more to do with pheromones and the changing family structure. For thousands of years, girls lived in nuclear families. The smell of males with shared biology -- fathers and brothers -- functioned to suppress ovulation. Yes, the scent of a smelly brother's B.O. was enough to inform a girl's biology that she was still in the nest and not ready to reproduce. But today families have changed. Young girls are exposed to the male pheromones of stepfathers and stepbrothers, and even mommy's boyfriends. Some experts in human biology believe this has changed the game for girls' bodies.
It's a complicated question with complicated answers. There are probably many more factors that contribute to the trend of early puberty. It's also natural. Each generation gets bigger, sooner. But when moms are helping their 9-year-olds insert tampons so they can be on the swim team, it does feel terribly premature.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression.|