Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
(NBC News) -- Children, especially girls, may be growing up faster than we did, and certainly faster than their grandparents.
It's a trend that's troubling to some, embarrassing to others, and a mystery to science. But early puberty is a fact of life that shouldn't be ignored.
"I felt crushed that I wasn't there for her on that."
"I was frazzled by it thinking there must be something wrong with her."
"I didn't want my six and a half year old to be in puberty.")
These mothers, with their daughters, are part of a biological phenomenon that may be affecting all our children. It's called Precocious Puberty.
"Which we commonly refer to as the 'too-soons'"
Research shows that since 1960, the average age for beginning puberty is half a year younger for boys, but up to two full years younger for girls. No one's proven a cause, but the theories range from genetics, to childhood obesity, to the pesticides in our food."
Whatever the reason, body changes are beginning for many girls now at age 9 or 10. For some, it's even earlier.
"Emily was 4 and a half when I noticed she had breast development on her right side."
Emily de Reyna was growing in other ways too. In the next four years, she became the tallest kid in her class.
Emily de Reyna, 8 Years Old: "If my sisters can't reach something I can always get them and say here you go or I got it for you."
Cheerleader Kaitlyn Pfeiffer also is tall for her age. She's a nine year old girl, in a 12 year old's body.
"I think she struggles between being a kid and still maturing now. Sometimes I see boys looking her way and I want to say there's a sign on her that she's only nine years old!"
Sarah Shanahan, Had Puberty Early: "It was... it was difficult."
Now 25, Sarah Shanahan looks back at her early puberty and remembers the teasing.
Sarah Shanahan, Had Puberty Early: "Comments were made by the boys when I would develop breasts... I would just do my best to try to ignore."
Sarah's periods began when she was nine. She was too young and embarrassed to talk about it, and too young to have had sex education at home or at school.
"I did not have the conversations with Sarah that I should of had."
At Advocate Hope Children's Hospital, Kaitlyn's doctor says a diagnosis of precocious puberty is sometimes harder for the parents to accept than the kids.
Dr. Fraud Ziai, Pediatric Endocrinologist: "Basically it is for them the surprise that my girl at age of 9 or 8 is having her period. What is going to happen to her and the answer is, nothing is going to happen to her."
Experts advise parents to learn about precocious puberty, then talk to the teachers and tell their child it's just a part of growing up.
Girls who develop early can reduce teasing or safety concerns by wearing conservative clothes. Teasing in the family should not be allowed.
Experts say precocious puberty can be defined as when the body begins to mature before age seven in girls, and before age 8 in boys.