Is There a Magic Age that Defines Adolescence?..........
I can't believe how my 11-year-old daughter is dressing. I have to
send her back to her room in the morning. What is it with these girls trying to grow up so fast? She acts like she's already a teenager, but I see her as a baby." A mother.
Are kids becoming teenagers younger these days? You often hear parents lament that their 10 or 11 year old acts as if they have passed into adolescence. It is not an uncommon experience for children to begin acting out in ways that signal the onset of adolescence at this age. Although "teenager" tends to denote the ages with the suffix "teen," this is an arbitrary designation. The onset of "adolescence" varies from child to child and depends on their level of physical and emotional maturity, the influences of their peer group, and the pressures of the environment. Children who grow up in fast-paced urban environments, for example, often develop a precociousness that belies their pre-teen age.
Adolescence essentially begins when physiologically normal puberty starts. It ends when the person develops an adult identity and behavior. This period of development corresponds roughly to the period between the ages of 10 and 19 years. Certainly, some adolescents take a few years longer to develop their adult identity and behavior, sometimes into their early to mid twenties.
What are some of the signs that your child has reached "adolescence?" The most obvious signs are physical: for boys it shows up as facial or chest hair, a deepening voice, and signs of increased awareness of their sexuality. For girls, onset of menstruation, breast development, and also changes in the voice (more subtle than with boys) are signs.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently completed a study that showed the physical changes of puberty occur in girls as young as age 7 or 8 – three years earlier than the trend for puberty over the past 30 years. At age 7 or 8 they are physiologically where you were at age 10 or 11. Hormones profoundly affect behavior, so the fact that a "little girl" seems like a teenager is likely influenced by these physical changes. This early puberty trend does not seem to occur in boys at this point in history.
What does this mean for parents? The most important thing to remember is that the 'borders' of adolescence are murky. Not all children acts like teens at age 11, but many do. For girls, this is becoming more and more common due to the younger age when physiological changes occur. Parents may want to consider 'moving up' their talks with children about the changes they will experience (physically and emotionally). This may have to come a good three years earlier than you expected (or learned this information when you were a child).