It is a truism common to nearly all family gatherings that grandparents will frequently remark on how fast their beloved grandchildren seem to be growing up these days.
But now, instead of provoking a bout of eye-rolling at such platitudes, a new report seems to show the old folks were right: boys are indeed hitting puberty at an earlier age than they used to.
A comprehensive study by the American Academy of Pediatrics was published on Saturday. Widely seen as the best measure of the onset of puberty in American boys, it showed that they are showing signs of puberty six months to two years earlier than previously assumed.
The surprise finding builds on previous discoveries that appeared to show girls have also been developing faster. A study in 2010, which was published in the US Journal of Pediatrics, created headlines when it revealed girls were hitting puberty earlier, with some developing breasts at seven. Nor was it just in the US. Other studies have revealed the same trend in girls all over the world.
Now the AAP study, officially unveiled at a national conference in the US, is showing the same trends in boys. It primarily identified the signs of puberty as the growth in size of testicles and largely shied away from speculating on what may be causing the shift, though it did refer to changes in diet, the fact that modern children are becoming less physically active and other environmental shifts.
All that has led to speculation that weight gain might be a possible factor. It certainly might explain the earlier development among girls, as body fat is linked to production of the female hormone oestrogen. But the link might be less clear with boys. Also, it is not certain if weight gain is a trigger for puberty or simply a consequence of it…
The policy implications of the shift could be helpful when it comes to dealing with boys as they grow up, especially in school and within their own families.
Dr Frank Biro, a puberty researcher at Cincinnati children’s hospital, told the New York Times: “If kids are looking older, it means that parents should be monitoring them, because that superego doesn’t kick in until late teens or early 20s. The kids need a hand. Know what they’re doing.”
Regardless, thoughts of parents paying more and closer attention to their kids raising another ton of questions. Given the economic context we labor within – it’s more likely than ever that workingclass parents are working more part-time jobs, extra jobs, to get by. So, they’re already giving short shrift to the attention they should be paying their children on Life 101 topics, e.g., education, health, exercise, play.
Well, here’s another. I expect the usual complainers will whine about teachers and schools not doing enough. What passes for conservatives, nowadays, will whine that unemployed parents have enough time, now, to spend with their children. Meaningless to anyone who’s ever spent time dedicated to job-hunting while sinking into poverty.