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Study: Early Puberty Signs in Kids Are Not Always Cause for Alarm

Although parents may worry that early signs of puberty in kids as young as 7 or 8 are cause for concern, the AAP says this is not always the case.

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According to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, early signs of puberty in kids as young as 7 or 8 are not always cause for concern, despite what parents often believe.

When girls in particular display underarm or pubic hair growth and enlargement of breasts in the second or third grade, parents often seek help from a pediatric endocrinologist. But Dr. Paul Kaplowitz, the lead researcher of the study, which will appear in the journal Pediatrics, says this is actually quite common, and likely does not signal the true onset of "precocious puberty," a hormone disorder that can bring on premature sexual maturation.

When a child experiences what's called "adrenarche" puberty, a weak release of hormones before true puberty, varies depending on ethnicity and body weight, according to research. A recent study found 23 percent of black, 15 percent of Hispanic, and 10 percent of white 7- to 8-year-old girls experienced some degree of development of their breasts. And obese girls are more likely to appear to have developed breasts early due to excess body fat.

How to Talk to Kids About Puberty

Meanwhile, it is within the range of normal development for a boy age 9 or older to experience some testicular enlargement. Both sexes may notice pubic hair development and body odor around this age, again, without cause for concern.

So when should parents seek the opinion of a doctor? Dr. Kaplowitz points to a few red flags that signal a child may be experiencing precocious puberty and needs medical attention:

  • Testicular enlargement in a boy younger than age 9
  • Progressive breast development in girls younger than 8
  • Rapid growth in pubic hair or acne at a very young age
  • Accompanying rapid height growth

All I can say after reading this study is that kids are growing up too darn fast! And I'm so not ready for my second-grader to grow up!

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.