No, the bra emporium isn't launching a line for the under 10 set, but that reality might not be too far off. According to an article in the New York Times the onset of puberty is apparent in even younger girls than ever before--noticeable breast development in children as young as 7. I have a 12-year-old daughter and while I've been forbidden to write specifically about her (that agreement came about while working on FLOW: the Cultural Story of Menstruation), I can comfortably say that 7 year olds are in first grade. Many first graders are just learning to read, to function in a social and educational environment, experiencing more independence from their families than they have in the past. First graders often struggle with the responsibility of first homework assignments and making their own beds. First grade girls often do art projects involving fairies. Many still embrace pink, American Girl dolls, and iCarly. Yes, these are the broadest of generalizations, but the point is that 7 year olds are kids. Young kids. Far too young to be experiencing hormonal shifts and budding breasts.
Why is this a concern? How about unprovoked advances from the opposite sex that a preteen girl is incapable of dealing with. Or perhaps an increased risk of breast cancer, as these girls will be exposed to more estrogen and progesterone over their lifetimes. Then there are sexual impulses that come with puberty that are hard enough to handle at 12 or 13. Or being thrown into the lion's den of body image issues before they're emotionally capable of coping.
What's even more disturbing is that no one knows quite why this is happening. Obesity seems to have something to do with it. Race seems to be another factor. And then there's the environmental question as in what chemicals our children have been exposed to that could potentially jump start puberty before its time. Or what we, as mothers, had in our systems that could have affected our children, either during pregnancy or through breast milk.
There are no answers. Yet. But every parent should make it their responsibility to stay aware of how the changes in our environment are changing us.
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