Sunday Herald Sun - Body and Soul - - FRONT PAGE -

and ex­po­sure to ar­ti­fi­cial light, all of which are in­creas­ing in Aus­tralia. Pre­co­cious pu­berty has se­ri­ous health im­pli­ca­tions, leav­ing girls at greater risk for asthma, de­pres­sion and breast and re­pro­duc­tive can­cers in adult­hood. They’re also more likely to en­gage in risky be­hav­iour such as un­der­age sex and sub­stance abuse.

“A seven-year-old girl isn’t equipped emo­tion­ally to have the body of a young woman,” says Denise Green­away, psy­chol­o­gist and body im­age ed­u­ca­tor with Mir­rorMir­ror.com.au. “We’re deal­ing with very young, vul­ner­a­ble, im­pres­sion­able chil­dren who aren’t at the same emo­tional, psy­cho­log­i­cal level as their bod­ies.”

The sud­den de­vel­op­ment of breasts can trig­ger body im­age is­sues and lead to con­fu­sion at school and in the com­mu­nity, says Dr Far­rell: “Once a girl de­vel­ops phys­i­cal changes she might not ap­pre­ci­ate that she can be the ob­ject of un­wanted sex­ual at­ten­tion and older males may not ap­pre­ci­ate how young she is.” Green­away says par­ents need to be sen­si­tive to how their daugh­ter is feel­ing with­out dis­miss­ing it or in­flam­ing it fur­ther. “For par­ents to pour out all of their anx­i­ety, pain and grief at see­ing the loss of their lit­tle one doesn’t help,” she says.

Make sure your child un­der­stands what’s hap­pen­ing to her body. “If she wants to talk about sex, drugs and al­co­hol make it a lis­ten­ing op­por­tu­nity to see what she knows, rather than bur­den her with in­for­ma­tion she may not be ready for emo­tion­ally,” Green­away says.

And re­mem­ber, your pri­or­ity is to pro­tect her. Speak to her teach­ers, sports groups, friends and fam­ily about the need for greater pri­vacy and un­der­stand­ing: “She may look older but she’s still a lit­tle girl at heart and lit­tle girls can hope­fully still be climb­ing trees, rid­ing horses and look­ing daggy.”

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