2:34 PM EST, November 12, 2012
Puberty is a natural path to becoming a man or woman.
But let's face it -- it's not easy to talk about.
It's especially tough when those changes arrive early.
People often speculate about what causes early puberty.
But how can parents talk to their children about their changing bodies?
WDBJ7's Kimberly McBroom takes a look at that, and how parents can talk to their children about their changing bodies in our special report, "Coming of Age Early."
Sydnee Evans has the nickname "Period Princess" at Glenvar Middle School.
It doesn't make the 7th-grader feel embarrassed.
It makes her feel proud.
"People ask me what is it like, what is it like to have your period? And I actually have to answer those questions for them,” Evans said.
Sydnee was 10 when she started having her menstrual cycles.
Now at the ripe old age of 13, she acts as a mentor for her classmates.
They ask her questions that might make the average pre- teen and even some adults blush.
But not Sydnee.
Her mom says she's not surprised her daughter is comfortable talking about a topic once considered taboo.
"From a little girl, she knew what her body parts were,” Sydnee’s mother, Deneen Evans said. “We never gave little euphemisms or nicknames. She always understood that was just a normal transition because she was prepared early on."
Preparation is key, especially with more girls hitting puberty early.
Doctor Moriah Krason is a pediatrician at LewisGale Medical Center.
She looks for signs of puberty during routine check-ups.
Krason says symptoms can appear in girls as young as seven.
For African-American girls, it can be as young as six.
Signs of puberty include breast development, a growth spurt, as well as the growth of pubic or underarm hair.
Typically, menstruation will begin about two-and-a-half years after those signs appear.
Despite what many people believe, Doctor Krason says there's no proof that hormones in food trigger puberty.
Instead, she says a girl's weight can be a factor.
“What we do have evidence for is that our increase in childhood obesity is really leading to earlier onset of puberty, and that's really the key,” Krason said.
Fat tissue has estrogen in it, and estrogen is required to start the puberty process.
Heredity can also play a role.
The trend not only means girls are growing up faster, it can also lead to problems.
"They are labeled as different,” Krason said. “They are expected to act more maturely than other kids their age. They're at risk for some behavioral issues, and sometimes they're having an earlier onset of sexual activity because they develop so much earlier."
Puberty has been pretty smooth for Sydnee, thanks to open and frank discussions with her mom.
Getting the conversation going, though, can be tough.
Both Doctor Krason and Sydnee's family recommend the American Girl book, "The Care and Keeping of You.”
Whatever book or other source of information you choose -- don't shy away from girl talk.
"Don't be scared. Just man up. Don't be scared to tell them about their period," Sydnee said.
"It's a fun time. It was an exciting time for us. A rite of passage. A time to celebrate,” Sydnee’s mother, Deneen Evans said. “You know, it shows that they're healthy. They're becoming women and it shows that their bodies are working the way that they should. So, it definitely isn't anything that's a taboo and it definitely shouldn't be embarrassing."
Maybe not embarrassing, but definitely bittersweet for parents to see their little girl grow up.
There are many resources online for information about puberty.
But one local source you and your child might want to consider is a seminar by Carilion called "Girl Talk."
It happens twice a year, and the next session is December 5, from 6-9 p.m. at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital's Rehab Auditorium.
For more information, call 540-266-6000.
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