The solution to early puberty: more talk about sexuality – or more involved parents?

On Thursday, the Deseret News ran a story about recent reports that say the average age of puberty in girls seems to be falling, with some experiencing it as early as 7 or 8.

Photo credit: Steve Polyak

The article includes both good and bad advice about a response to the phenomenon. The good advice is that parents should talk to their children about the issue “to help them more easily navigate the changes they will soon experience” and to teach them to be more health-conscious in general.

The bad advice, perhaps predictably, comes from a representative of Planned Parenthood who is quoted as saying: “We advocate [boys and girls] take the [sexuality education] lessons together. When they’re in a room together, hearing the experiences of one another, that’s a huge opportunity for perspective-taking.” The story goes on to summarize her view: “Slonaker encourages this to help avoid the creation of taboos and has found that this method leads to a more open conversation between the sexes.”

It almost staggers belief that in our hyper-sexualized culture, even an advocate of comprehensive sex education could say with a straight face that the answer to falling puberty rates is more co-ed sex talk, especially when referring to 7- and 8-year-olds. The use of the word “taboos,” a devil word for sexual revolutionaries, is particularly amusing.

Interestingly, there is an important element not mentioned in this story (since it is off the radar for many in the media). That is the effect of family structure on the timing of puberty.

For instance, there is evidence that having an unrelated adult in the home, rather than a girl’s father, is associated with earlier onset of puberty. See the following studies:

The article mentions obesity as a possible culprit. There is also good evidence that this, too, could be helped by parental involvement in children’s lives. For example, see the following by Mary Eberstadt:

Strengthening families, particularly encouraging fathers’ presence in the home, is a solution that needs some attention. Ironically, the “breaking down taboos” solution is exactly the kind of advice that, if heeded, is likely to make the problem worse.