Puberty is tough at any age. When your kid is on the cusp of adolescence, everything from new body hair to sudden emotional changes and urges can be confusing and even downright scary for them. For the most part, that's because a body that's physically ready to morph into adulthood doesn't always belong to a kid who's emotionally ready to make the leap.
So imagine what it must be like to experience massive hormonal and bodily changes when you can't even speak yet. That's exactly what's happening to a little boy in India. At just a year old, a rare hormonal disorder is causing the little guy to go through puberty.
His parents first noticed something was wrong when he was about 6 months old. His genitalia were growing rapidly, while the rest of his development appeared to stall. When the infant was a year old, his paternal grandmother urged his parents to take him to a doctor, where they learned that their son had the hormones of a 25-year-old man.
That means that before this baby can speak or even hold his own spoon, he's developing body hair and sexual urges, all part and parcel of a rare disorder that causes kids to undergo puberty at a very, very early age. It's called precocious puberty, and it's defined as, well, the early onset of puberty. For boys, that might mean enlarged genitalia, the emergence of body hair and hormonal changes before the age of 9. For girls, that could be an early menarche, the development of breasts and body hair and hormonal changes before age 8. The chances of an infant as young as this experiencing precocious puberty are exceedingly rare, and so is the overall rate of early pubescent children — about 1 in 5,000.
While this boy may be one of the youngest patients to have experienced it, he's not the only case that's attracted attention. Girls as young as 5 have given birth, and overall, girls are about 10 times more likely to experience precocious puberty.
Pair that fact with the surrealism of an infant developing adult characteristics, and precocious puberty often becomes something we like to goggle or otherwise whisper about for its freakishness. But the fact is that kids who experience the disorder — which is sometimes caused by a tumor but otherwise has no known common cause — can often be left traumatized. That's clear, of course, in the case of the world's youngest mothers: Children between the ages of 5 and 10 certainly cannot consent to sexual activity, nor are they even remotely emotionally ready to undergo the physical trauma of birth.
According to his doctor, this boy currently making news is more likely to experience trauma of his own, including a tendency toward violence and a chance that the rest of his growth will remain stunted throughout all stages of development.
Fortunately for others, the onset of puberty at such a young age is very rare and can be treated with medication that delays further development.
Precocious puberty has been a growing topic of concern lately for moms, particularly in the Western world, where we're beginning to see an almost universal drop in the age of puberty for both boys and girls. A study in 2007 attempted to explore why so many more children were beginning to show signs of puberty than they did 30 years prior, and an even earlier study, done in 1999, suggested dropping the commonly considered pubertal onset age by a few years because of the influx of developing girls.
We may very well have to do just that. In 1999, it was assumed that only about 5 percent of girls were starting to go through puberty prior to age 8, while more contemporary research shows that by age 7, 15 percent of girls had early breast development, and 10 percent were beginning to grow pubic hair.
The jury's still out as to why, though, with some folks pointing to environmental factors, and others citing a genetic culprit. For now, the "normal" age for puberty remains between the ages of 10 and 14 for girls and 12 and 16 for boys, and should take about two years to complete.
If you suspect your child is experiencing the symptoms of precocious puberty, then you may wish to take them to see their doctor. All kids need special care when they're experiencing such huge changes to their bodies and brains, and kids who experience these changes so young will need even more. No matter what, we should offer compassion and empathy to kids going through precocious puberty and not ridicule or giggles, especially when they're young and vulnerable.
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