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Ministry Implications of Early Onset Puberty

Now most researchers seem to agree on one thing: Breast budding in girls is starting earlier. The debate has shifted to what this means. Puberty, in girls, involves three events: the growth of breasts, the growth of pubic hair and a first period. Typically the changes unfold in that order, and the proc­ess takes about two years. But the data show a confounding pattern. While studies have shown that the average age of breast budding has fallen significantly since the 1970s, the average age of first period, or menarche, has remained fairly constant, dropping to only 12.5 from 12.8 years. Why would puberty be starting earlier yet ending more or less at the same time?

Puberty Before Age 10, A New Normal – New York Times, March 30th, 2012

Statistically speaking doctors aren’t worried about a 2nd grade female to beginning puberty. That takes a while to sink in, doesn’t it? As the father of a 10 year old girl I digested that article from a bit of a terrified position. I read a bit of the article, looked at Megan. Read a bit more, looked at her some more. I know middle school is just a few months away but I’d really like to hang onto the book reading, origami folding, hold dads hand on the walk to the yogurt shop little girl for a bit longer! My wife and I are in absolute denial of the signs of puberty we see in our daughter. It’s not exactly denial. It’s denial that we’re in denial about her approaching early adolescence.

I don’t think we’re alone. There are likely millions of parents like my wife and I who are in denial that they are in denial of the rapid approach of adolescence.

If you’re a youth worker here’s a scary reality for you: We’re looking to you for help! You know teenagers, we have one that looks like a teenager… help us!?!?!!

Practically speaking what does early onset puberty mean for youth ministry?

  1. Fortunately, at least for now, there’s little evidence that females who enter puberty younger are emotionally entering adolescence. At least not in any research I’ve seen. So I don’t think we have to worry much about somehow pulling out the early bloomers to stick them in the middle school group to be developmentally appropriate.
  2. Unlike boys, girls who “blossom early” are often picked on. I think it’s especially important that we are creating a safe place for all students to explore a relationship with Jesus. While you might think you’re doing this well, you’ll never know until you start asking students if they feel like your ministry is a safe place to be, talk about God, and free from getting picked on.
  3. It’s OK to talk about. If a 5 foot tall 3rd grader is seen in the hallway before high school Sunday School, I think it has to be something you’re willing to talk about.
  4. You don’t have to know why it’s happening. I think it’s funny that parents come to pastors and ask them why something is happening. I don’t ask my tax guy why my car is burning oil, so why do I think it’s OK to ask my pastor why some 1st graders are developing breasts. If you’re asked, the best thing you can possible say is, “I don’t know I’m not an endocrinologist.”

What other implications or ideas do you have for youth workers about early onset puberty? 

Posted on 3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Ministry Implications of Early Onset Puberty

  1. Adam, referring to #2, a girl being picked on for developing early could start thinking “What’s wrong with me?” that would lead into adolescence.  Many teens are insecure in some way, and this would only make her insecurity worse.

  2. I think it dramatically underscores the need to have both men and women involved with every ministry. There isnt an 8-12 year old girl in the universe who wants to have THAT conversation with a guy. (And I bet there are very few guys who could do the conversation anyhow, without squirming and texting their wife under the table.)

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