Girls as young as 7 or 8 years may now be experiencing signs of early puberty. What are the psychological consequences of reaching puberty so early?
Higher Rates of Depression and Anxiety
Children who experience early puberty have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to their peers. This effect is found consistently in girls, but findings involving boys are less clear. Perhaps most disturbingly, the enhanced risk of depression and anxiety may stretch all the way into the college years.
Greater Risk of Substance Abuse
Girls and boys who experience precocious puberty may also be at greater risk of abusing substances. Smoking in particular seems to be much more common among children who mature early compared to their on-time or late-maturing peers. Some studies indicate that the increased substance abuse risk extends into the early twenties.
Earlier Sexual Activity
Reaching puberty early may also put a child at risk of earlier sexual activity compared to his or her peers. Some studies indicate that girls are also more sexually promiscuous when they develop early. Unfortunately, early sexual activity and promiscuity is associated with an increased risk of teen pregnancy. Teen pregnancy comes with its own host of psychological consequences, including a higher drop-out rate, a lower lifetime income and an increased risk of having more children while still a teen.
Lower Self-Esteem and Body Image
Girls who mature early also tend to suffer from lower self-esteem and poorer body image than their friends who mature on time or late. Early-developing boys seem to avoid these negative effects.
Poorer Academic Outcomes
Finally, some studies find that girls who experience early puberty do poorer in school compared to their peers. Their decreased academic achievement may extend through the high school years and possibly beyond. Like the self-esteem and body image findings, the findings related to academic outcomes seem to be restricted to girls; boys do just as well academically regardless of when they hit puberty.
Biro, Frank M., et al. (2010). Pubertal assessment method and baseline characteristics in a mixed longitudinal study of girls. Pediatrics. Retrieved August 13, 2010:
Santelli, J. S., Orr, M., Lindberg, L. D. & Diaz, D. C. Changing behavioral risk for pregnancy among high school students in the United States. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2009. 45: 25-32.
Walvoord, Emily C. The timing of puberty: Is it changing? Does it matter? Journal of Adolescent Health. 2010. 1-7.