How can we better support our children's puberty?
Puberty is a complex and important transitional stage in a person’s life, especially for girls between the ages of 8 and 14. For parents, accompanying their children through this period can be tricky and sometimes disconcerting. Understanding the physical, emotional and psychological changes that accompany puberty is essential to providing adequate support. In this article, we’ll explain what’s happening at the hormonal level during puberty, and how girls are exposed to it earlier and earlier. Finally, some advice on how to best support our children through this important stage.
Hormonally, what does it do to us?
Puberty for girls is marked by a series of physiological and emotional changes, including significant hormonal variations. Hormones play a crucial role in the development of secondary sexual characteristics and the maturation of the reproductive system.
Here are the main hormonal changes that occur during puberty in girls:
Hormones : Puberty is governed by a complex system of hormones. The hypothalamus, pituitary and ovaries play an essential role in regulating the hormonal changes that trigger sexual development.
Ovaries : These hormones (FSH = follicle-stimulating hormone and LH = luteinizing hormone) act on the ovaries. Under their influence, the ovaries begin to produce estrogens, mainly estradiol. Estrogens are responsible for the development of sexual characteristics, such as breast development, pubic and axillary hair growth, and the maturation of the reproductive system.
Menstrual cycle : Increasing estrogen production also thickens the endometrium (lining of the uterus) in preparation for menstruation. At the same time, it stimulates the production of LH, which triggers ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary. After ovulation, the body produces progesterone. This hormone helps maintain the endometrium in preparation for a possible pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum regresses, leading to a drop in progesterone levels and the onset of menstruation. Menstruation often begins a few years after the start of breast development.
Physical changes : During puberty, breast development is often the first visible sign. This is followed by rapid growth, the appearance of pubic and axillary hair, and the maturation of the internal reproductive system (uterus, fallopian tubes).
Emotional changes : In addition to physical changes, puberty is also a period of emotional and social transition. Hormonal fluctuations can influence mood and behavior, and the adolescent may experience changes in self-perception and interpersonal relationships.
Every girl goes through puberty at her own pace, and it’s essential to remember that differences and intensity of change are normal.
Why is puberty arriving earlier and earlier for young girls?
Several studies have suggested a tendency towards precocious puberty, but the exact reasons remain multifactorial and cannot be attributed to a single factor.
Research in France has indicated an advance in the average age at onset of puberty in girls over recent decades. A French study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2012 showed a trend towards earlier puberty, with a decrease in the average age (before age 8) at the onset of breast development compared with previous decades.
Its main factors are as follows:
- Environmental factors : Certain chemicals present in the environment, known as endocrine disruptors (present in certain plastics, cosmetics, clothing, pesticides, etc.), can mimic or disrupt the body’s natural hormones, potentially influencing the onset of puberty at a younger age. There is indeed a link between exposure to endocrine disruptors and the early development of breasts or the early onset of menarche in girls.
- Health impact : concerns about the possible effects of early puberty on girls’ long-term health, including increased risk of hormone-dependent cancers and metabolic problems. Also, a diet high in calories and low in nutrients, combined with a lack of physical activity, which in turn can influence the early onset of puberty. Chronic stress can have an impact on hormones and pubertal development.
- Exposure to artificial light : Some researchers have investigated the potential link between prolonged exposure to artificial light at night and the early onset of puberty in girls.
As living conditions have evolved, with better nutrition and earlier access to information, this can contribute to changes in growth and development rhythms. Although the age of puberty is tending to decrease, this doesn’t necessarily mean that girls are mentally ready to face these changes. Open communication between parents and children is important to help them understand and manage this transitional period.
Tips to help your children through puberty :
- Understanding body changes : Explaining expected physical changes can help. Have open discussions about puberty and provide factual information to help girls understand these changes.
- Encourage communication : Encourage girls to communicate openly with trusted adults to ask questions or share concerns.
- Offer emotional support : According to the WHO, offering emotional support is crucial during puberty. Listening attentively, being empathetic and reassuring about the normality of changes can help girls adapt more easily.
- Promoting self-confidence: Encouraging self-confidence is essential. It’s important to value achievements and promote positive role models to help girls develop a positive body image.
- Sex education: Sex education is important. WHO recommends factual, age-appropriate information on sexuality and reproduction to help girls understand the physical and emotional aspects of sexuality.
6. Encourage healthy eating and exercise : A balanced diet and regular exercise are essential for healthy growth and to help manage body changes.
Puberty is a natural but sometimes difficult phase for our children. As parents, it’s important to offer emotional support, open communication, proper education and an environment conducive to healthy growth. By better understanding this period and providing appropriate support, we can help our children navigate through puberty with confidence and self-assurance.
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