By Shelley Divnich Haggert
Take a look at a Grade 6 class photo. There’s usually a student, centre of the back row, who towers over his classmates. And how about that girl, the small one on the end — while her peers seem to be looking more like teenagers everyday, she doesn’t have a hint of a curve anywhere.
The onset of puberty usually takes place between the ages of 8 and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys. That’s a wide range, and preteens on either end may find it
hard to cope with the differences between them and their friends and classmates — especially in the summer when their bodies are more exposed. So what is behind varying growth spurts? Genetics play a part — if you were an early bloomer, chances are higher that your kids will be too. Gender may also play a role. “Late bloomers are usually boys,” says Dr. Jack Holland, a professor of pediatrics and an endocrinologist at Hamilton Health Sciences in Hamilton, Ont. “Early bloomers are more likely to be girls.”
Sherri O’Neill*’s daughter Hailey*, now 14, started showing signs of puberty around her eighth birthday, with the early appearance of pubic hair. “The need for deodorant came next,” says O’Neill, a mother of two in LaSalle, Ont. “It bothered her a lot. She was self-conscious about her body, refusing to change in front of other kids. She just wanted things to slow down.” Luckily, Hailey’s solid group of friends helped her get through the odd bout of teasing. Hailey also has a January birthday, making her older than most kids in her class. “I really pushed that idea at the time, that she was bound to start everything first because she’s older. That was a concept a nine-year-old could understand.”
Even if your daughter has started menstruating at age 10, remember that a10-year-old with her period is still only 10. Comments like “you’re a woman now!” can be confusing and disturbing to preteens who are still emotionally and behaviourally their chronological age. “They shouldn’t be treated like adolescents before their time,” says Dr. Holland. However, if your daughter is starting to experience breast development at seven or eight, she probably doesn’t have a full understanding of her body, and needs to have the changes explained to her, says Dr. Holland. “It’s important to explain puberty, that she’s starting it early; if she’s getting her period at this time, you can seek medical attention to slow this down.”
Boys that are late bloomers are likely to experience teasing just before starting high school if they’re shorter than their peers, so it’s important to give them an understanding of the situation before they enter Grade 9, says Dr. Holland. Unfortunately, Karen Carter*’s youngest son has already had to put up with the comments about his smaller stature. “Kevin*’s older brother has always been one of the tallest in his class,” says the mom of four from Thamesford, Ont. “Kevin is the opposite. Family friends will say things like, “when are you going to grow up, squirt?’ He’s very sensitive to comments about his size.”
Boys who start puberty late will continue to grow after their peer group — if they start two years later, then they’ll continue to grow two years beyond their more typical peers, explains Dr. Holland. “It can be very helpful to know that the future for growth potential looks good for boys,” he says.
“Hailey is a swimmer,” says O`Neill. “It’s given her a great deal of confidence, and also an up-close look at how hers is not the only body that is changing.” Carter’s son plays hockey. “He’s one of smaller ones on the team but he’s not the kind to shy away from anything.” Carter says she also tells Kevin that everyone grows at different ages so it’s nothing to worry about.
While most late bloomers will eventually catch up, if poor gains in height are accompanied by poor weight gain, especially for girls, you should seek medical attention. It could be a problem with anorexia, celiac disease, or another nutritional issue, says Dr. Holland.