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Early puberty study has spiritual implications
Erin Roach, Baptist Press
August 23, 2010
3 MIN READ TIME

Early puberty study has spiritual implications

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

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.