Parents take note: if your tot is regularly emotional, disobedient, anxious or distant, you could have an "early bloomer" on your hands. Australian researchers have found that children who go through early puberty are more likely to have mental problems at a very young age -- with behavioural symptoms appearing in children as young as four.
Emo Girl picture from Shutterstock
Researchers from the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute followed the development of 3,491 children from age four through to 11 using the Longitudinal Study of Australian children. Over the course of the study, parents were asked to monitor their child's puberty transition and timing (based on skin changes, adult-type body odor, body hair and breast growth) and answered questions about behaviour difficulties and emotional, social and school functioning.
The study found that boys who reached puberty by age eight had greater behavioural difficulties and poorer emotional and social adjustment from preschool onward. Their female counterparts also experienced difficulties in emotional and social adjustment from a very young age, but did not exhibit the same behavioural problems as boys.
The study found that these differences remained even after accounting for other factors such as ethnicity, body mass index and family socioeconomic situation.
The report concludes that the increase in behavioural and emotional problems in young children appears to be caused by hormonal developmental processes that start well before the onset of puberty.
The study supports a life course hypothesis that differences in pubertal timing and childhood adjustment may at least in part result from genetic and environmental factors early in life…These findings are consistent with the idea that early puberty may be part of an accelerated trajectory of transition to adult development that begins early in life, and which includes heightened risks for childhood behavior and social adjustment problems.
A number of other factors, including intrauterine development, early childhood nutrition and weight gain, family functioning and peer influences are also cited in the report as possible contributors.
Frankly, I would have been happier not knowing this. Now, whenever my daughter chucks a strop I'm going to be worried about the future ramifications. (Just to be safe, I'm going to ban Bratz as a preemptive measure.)
Early Puberty and Childhood Social and Behavioral Adjustment [Journal of Adolescent Health]