Traditionally, pediatric guidelines indicated that most girls entered puberty between ages 8 and 13 and boys between ages 9 and 14. However, there appears to be a trend toward girls entering puberty at a younger age. Recent studies show that puberty may be starting about a year earlier than previous guidelines indicated, and that black girls mature close to a year earlier than white girls, says Paul Kaplowitz, M.D., chief of endocrinology at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC and author of the forthcoming book Early Puberty in Girls: The Essential Guide to Coping with This Common Problem (Ballantine Books, February 2004).
Early puberty seems to be much more common in girls than in boys, adds Dr. Kaplowitz, but rest assured: "Signs of puberty in girls between the ages of 7 and 8 are fairly common and don't usually indicate a serious problem," he says. When should parents be concerned? "If your daughter is clearly going through puberty rapidly before age 8, she should be seen by a pediatrician or family physician who can decide is it is necessary to see a specialist," he suggests. Also, keep in mind that the appearance of pubic hair, isn't the same thing as actually having puberty because the hormones which cause the growth of pubic hair come from the adrenal glands, while the hormones which promote breast growth come from the ovaries, explains Dr. Kaplowitz.