Early puberty study has spiritual implications
    August 23 2010 by Erin Roach, Baptist Press

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Some girls are reaching the onset of puberty at an earlier age than in the past, according to a new study; and parents and churches can play key roles in helping such girls mature emotionally and spiritually, Christian experts say.

    The study, which appears in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics, examined 1,239 girls ages 6 to 8 and found that 10 percent of whites, 23 percent of blacks and 15 percent of Hispanic girls had breast development by age 7.

    Earlier development, the researchers said, puts girls at higher risk for behavioral problems as adolescents and for breast cancer as adults. The risk of cancer increases with a longer lifetime exposure to the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

    Bill Cutrer, professor of Christian ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said early puberty onset is more prevalent in heavier girls.

    The obstetrician/gynecologist explained that fatty tissue makes estrone, a weak estrogen, so young girls with a tendency toward obesity would develop breast changes sooner.

    It is a phenomenon observed primarily in industrialized nations, he said, adding that in third world countries where malnutrition is rampant, girls develop later.

    He also said it was important to note that the age of menstruation has not changed, so whatever has contributed to earlier breast development “hasn’t seemed to alter that part (menstruation) of the pubertal clock.”

    Cutrer said the study has implications for ministry.

    “Some of the references cited in this Pediatrics article found an association between earlier maturation and lower self esteem, worse body image, eating problems, suicide attempts, depression, influence by ‘deviant peers,’ earlier sex and earlier norm breaking behaviors,” Cutrer said.

    Churches can help girls appreciate themselves as made in the image of God and help them view their bodies as gifts and use them as temporary vessels for His glory, he said.

    It’s also important to have conversations with boys about how to interact with girls.

    “If the boys can learn to treat young girls with respect and not sexualize and objectify them (as society tends to do) perhaps the girls can mature in a more healthy fashion and avoid all those terrible consequences,” Cutrer said.

    “Our youth leaders simply must know this stuff and act aggressively to prevent the early bloomer from being ostracized, isolated, intimidated or belittled,” Cutrer said.

    “Girls maturing at a younger age will naturally call attention to themselves and heighten boys’ interests. That makes it important for parents (especially fathers) to help their sons deal with their feelings and teach them how to respectfully treat younger girls,” said Jimmy Hester, developer of the “True Love Waits” campaign.  
    8/23/2010 7:34:00 AM by Erin Roach, Baptist Press | with 0 comments

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