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Are girls maturing faster these days?

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Observing young girls today would lead one to believe they are growing up quicker. With the advent of the Miracle bra and skin-baring styles more suited to Brazilian beaches, girls appear more physically mature than ever. But, despite popular opinion, it's fashion and not physiology that's making them appear that way.

"We encounter some children with early, but normal, onset of true puberty," states Virtua/duPont pediatric endocrinologist, Augustine Chikezie, MD. "But the defined age of onset has not changed. Caucasian girls may start puberty as early as age 8; African-American girls may start at age 7 1/2."

Research indicates that overweight girls have a tendency to reach puberty earlier. Dr. Chikezie explains: "Obese children ususally have advanced bone age, which may trigger the release of hormones that start puberty." If you're concerned that your youngster may actually be going through early puberty, talk with your child's doctor or with a pediatric endocrinologist.

Dressing like Britney Spears
That aside, the more likely reason that it appears girls are maturing sooner is a phenomenon that has been witnessed by every generation. "Kids always want to emulate cultural or pop icons, such as Twiggy, Blondie or Madonna, who get attention for being sexy. It drives their parents crazy," says George Layne, MD, Virtua Health psychiatrist. "But parents need to think back to their own teen years; that will help them accept why their teen wants to dress like Britney Spears," he continues. "It's key to remember that teens will try on many 'costumes' or 'identities' until they find the one that fits best — just as their parents did."

When to be concerned
Parents should become concerned if their child falls way out of the norm of what kids are wearing in a school or neighborhood. "If your child's choice of clothing makes her an outcast, she may be isolating herself from others, which is a sign of depression. If this is accompanied by falling grades, extreme weight loss or gain, sleep problems or a sudden change in friends, you should speak with your child's doctor or a psychiatrist," advises Dr. Layne.

Learn more
For more advice, read A Parent's Guide to Surviving Adolescence. You'll also find tips for communicating with kids of all ages on tough topics such as drugs, alcohol and sex.