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.”