Girls are reaching puberty earlier than before. Four years ago, a survey conducted by Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists Society of India (FOGSI) found that the age at which girls attain sexual maturity in urban India has dropped. It was found that 80% of the girls in cities are reaching puberty around age 11 – two years earlier than in the past. Also, several studies have observed a sharp decline in the menarche age of women in India.
This figure pointed towards a significant decrease in the mean age which used to be 13.83 years. Today, one out of three female children experience early maturity. Growing up earlier than scheduled has become a concerning trend for parents and paediatricians.
Puberty is a phase of life marked by the emanation of sexual hormones in a human of both genders characterised by physical and psychological changes. While men experience sexual maturity between the age of 12 to 16 years, girls hit puberty between the age of 10 to 12 years. A significant mark of puberty in females is menarche.
Physical and hormonal changes in the physiology and biology of young adolescents, especially in girls, influence psychological and behavioural aspects. There remains a constant conflict of striving for independence while at the same time demanding special attention and acceptance from parents.
Bodily satisfaction, looks and image become a major concern for children at this age, and many suffer from low self-esteem. Trying to fit in the peer-group, copying the habits and behavioural patterns of the conventionally accepted and popular seniors and peers, as well as withdrawing into isolation when one realises fundamental differences or are unable to get the desired results are some of the common features many adolescent girls go through.
The realisation of puberty, periods, and changing body gets manifested more strongly in girls and adjusting to the monthly biological calendar, cramps, and other aspects influence the behavioural patterns as well. This results in increasing mood swings, a rush of excitement, anger, anxiety, and sometimes depression.
“The onset of puberty is greatly determined by genetic control of a complex flow of signals in the hypothalamus, pituitary and ovarian axis that manages the sexual behaviour. This development is partially influenced by unimportant and environmental signals, which essentially play an accommodating role,” added Dr Anjila Aneja.
Talking about the consequences of early puberty, Dr Amita, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurugram said it limits the height due to early maturation of bones.
“The child may appear taller than her peer but it also has the drawback. The bones may stop growing before time resulting in a short height during adulthood. Early puberty can exert a great psychological and physical pressure on any child. Females having more emotional inclination become more vulnerable to social stigmas related to puberty. A five-year-old girl having no education on menstruation or other physical development that comes with sexual maturity feels aloof from her peer,” said Dr. Amita.
“Counselling and good parenting can help these ‘young women’ during this time. Lifestyle modifications – like exercise, outdoor activities and healthy diet – can also keep a check on girl’s weight and hence delay puberty,” concluded Dr Amita.