Extensive research reveals that girls are going through puberty earlier than previous generations. But what happens when a girl has the brain of an 8-year-old and the body of a 13-year-old?
Julianna Deardorff, associate professor of maternal and child health, helps to answer this question and more in a book co-written with Dr. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist who works at Kaiser Permanente and is on the faculty at UCSF. The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls draws on their landmark, cutting-edge research and years of clinical experience to explain why girls are developing at a faster rate, and enumerates both established and little known puberty prompters.
Deardorff is a licensed clinical psychologist and researcher with expertise in pubertal development and adolescent health. Deardorff and Greenspan’s pioneering work on a major puberty study won them the 2013 Community Breast Cancer Research Award. They have contributed to TIME, The New York Times Magazine, and NPR.
Researchers in the maternal and child health field are concerned that the early puberty phenomenon leads to long-term health risks, such as obesity, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and even cancer later in life. Parents, educators, coaches, policymakers, environmental advocates, and health care providers have questions: What is triggering early puberty? What can we do to help lead girls through this major transition to live happy, healthy lives?
The New Puberty contains some answers and guidance. For example:
- While it’s accepted that obesity can instigate early puberty, studies have shown that emotional stressors in a girl’s home and family life can also impact the onset of puberty.
- Seemingly safe, commonly-used natural ingredients like lavender and tea tree oil can actually have potent biological effects that disrupt normal physiology. Meanwhile, though soy has gotten an undeserved bad rap as a hormone mimicker, it’s actually proving to be healthy when it comes from a natural source.
- Although people like to point fingers at hormones in dairy and meat products, these substances may not be as influential as the antibiotics that might act like hormones in the body.
- Early developmental changes can also bring on precocious behavioral changes, since the brain is “remodeled” during puberty. But it's not just "raging hormones" at play—social environment exerts a strong influence on emotions and impulse control and can protect an early developer from unwanted outcomes.
Greenspan and Deardorff offer highly practical strategies that can help offset and manage early puberty, including: recommendations for limiting exposure to certain known endocrine disrupters, which foods to eat and which to stay away from, which ingredients should be avoided in household goods and consumer products, how to help with a child’s daily habits that play a major role in mental and physical development, how to smartly monitor a girl’s social life (without helicoptering), and how to initiate and continue the conversation about puberty.
For more information, visit the book’s website.