Girls who hit puberty early might be more likely than their peers to get into fights or skip school, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that girls who started their menstrual periods early – before age 11 – were more likely to admit to a “delinquent act.” Those acts included getting into fights at school, skipping classes and running away from home.
Early bloomers also seemed more susceptible to the negative influence of friends who behaved badly, the researchers said in the Deember online issue of the journal Pediatrics.
This study is not the first to find a connection between early puberty and delinquency, but none of the findings can prove that early maturation is definitely to blame.
“There could also be other reasons, such as family structure and socioeconomic status, that may drive both early puberty and problem behaviors,” said lead researcher Sylvie Mrug, of the University of Alabama, USA.
Mrug said her team tried to account for factors such as family income, and early puberty itself was still tied to a greater risk of delinquency. So it’s possible, Mrug said, that early maturation affects girls’ behaviour in some way.
On the other hand, she said, one theory is that there is a “mismatch” between physical development and emotional development in kids who start puberty earlier than average.
“These girls look older and are treated by others as older, but they may not have the social and [thinking] skills to deal with these external pressures,” Mrug said.
Another expert agreed.
“It is typical for girls with early breast development to be treated differently,” said Dr. Frank Biro, a professor of clinical pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, in Ohio.
This study defined early puberty based on menstruation, but breast development comes first. It’s the sign of maturation that other people can see, Biro said.
Research also suggests that girls in the US today typically develop breasts at a younger age than in past decades. In a recent study, Biro found that black girls typically begin developing around age 8, while white, Hispanic and Asian girls start around age 9.