Early Puberty Causes — Chemical And Social
Stories about children having children are no longer the stuff that tabloid news is made of. They are everyday occurrences, although not usually as dramatic as the ten year old reported recently, in a cultural setting where such things are accepted — a cultural setting of gypsies that transcends usual divisions of governments and countries. I remember from my French medical education, how whenever a person of that group needed medical care, we were told that the person in question was in the family of their “king,” and special favors were requested as such. I remember encampments in hospital parking lots, and very seductive young women dancing around for coins.
They reminded me of what Esmeralda in the “Hunchback of Notre Dame” ( the classic novel by Victor Hugo) must have looked like. I stopped romanticizing them when someone who ran away quickly, and was allegedly one of “them,” tried to rifle my purse outside the hospital. All anyone has to do is open their eyes on the streets of the large cities of southern California, to see people who look like children (at least to Golden Oldies such as my husband and myself) who are pushing carriages full of babies and surrounded by tiny children orbiting the vehicle like satellites.
The question is — what is going on, and why.
It seems like children are undergoing puberty at earlier ages these days. Like most major public health concerns, there seems to be a mixture of causes. There is no doubt in my mind that environmental pollutants are part of a large list of compounds that may have pseudo estrogen type effects.
From DDT (anyone remember Rachel Carson and her then groundbreaking book Silent Spring?) to Bisphenol A, a widely used plastic often used in baby bottles that may have estrogen like effects years later.
There is a social part here, too. Things like beauty pageants for little girls are relatively new, and certainly did not exist during my childhood. Perhaps experience is common so perceived innocence is more widely prized. Look at ideals of beauty like…Jon Benet Ramsey. Things that used to spell perversion loud and clear seem now to be a new ideal. In the bigger picture, this can only be hurting females in terms of academic achievement. I have never forgotten how my mother of blessed memory told me, at ten or eleven (the same age as the Roma girl who became pregnant in Spain) that I was not going to get by on my looks, so I better do something with my brains. I have never, ever, heard of any other woman who was told that, certainly not at that stage of development.
What I later learned in medical school was that an individual who looks like precocious puberty is happening should be checked out medically. There are serious conditions, often benign tumors, that are known to cause this. Perhaps there are more general and frequent conditions. The one we are hearing the most about now is childhood obesity. The first sign of puberty in the female is generally breast “bud” appearance. Of course, when someone is obese, who can tell the difference between real breast buds and wherever fat is stored — there or elsewhere? There is enough research at this point to hypothesize that the hormone leptin is secreted in increased amounts and is responsible for precocious female development. The fact is: Young women who look older than they are will be treated as older than they are.
I know this is an important social phenomenon, because South Park had an episode about it.
Psychologically, we are not in an age that idealizes childhood. I think there were some nice books like that in the 18th century. Wonderful illustrations of kids jumping ropes and rolling hoops exist. This is the era that is illustrated in Kate Greenaway book illustrations. We are no longer there. We are either creating or permitting children to be miniature adults. I am a fan of hand-held video games. If I go to look at what is available in store that sells such things, they are mostly about pretending to be adults. I will actually admit that I own “Imagine Ballet Star,” although I will absolutely not buy a game in which a young girl is supposed to pretend she is a doctor. I love puzzle, “casual” games. They are tough to find. Everything is about pretending to be an adult.
There are many academic studies available online, ranging from the biochemical to the social. There are a lot of animal studies confirming the effectiveness of environmental pollutants in making puberty come earlier. Maybe someday somebody will research them on a wide basis, but now, we are dealing with a phenomenon that, like psychopathology, has to be looked at as multifactorial. Biological, psychological, and social. I remember reading years ago that extended higher education was like a prolongation of infancy, in terms of extending one’s dependence on one’s parents. God knows I pushed that one as far as I could, to get all the education I could. Perhaps the current reality is the opposite. I certainly never knew and people contemporary to myself, who, like today’s adolescents, sought early independence for its own sake. I want to believe that if they knew more about the potential pitfalls, they would not be in so much of a hurry.
This is telling me that all education that is necessary for adulthood, especially education about sexuality and birth control, needs to be provided early.