What Makes a Teenager Mature

Sexual maturity: Puberty begins earlier and earlier

Girls and boys now reach puberty much earlier than their parents or grandparents. Why is that? Because the diet has changed, say experts.

Puberty - already at eight today?

About 140 years ago, in 1860, most girls in Germany started menarche (first rule) at the age of 16.6 years. In 1920 the average age was 14.6 years. In 1980, German girls had their first period at around 12.5 years of age.
And today puberty often begins at the age of eleven. The Landau sex researcher Norbert Kluge estimates that girls in Germany who were 14 years old in 2010 already had their first menstrual period at the age of 9.7. For about 25 years, doctors have also observed that girls grow pubic hair and breasts by the age of eight, and in some cases even earlier.
This continuous acceleration of sexual maturity can also be observed in boys. Their so-called ejacular age, i.e. the time of the first ejaculation, has also become increasingly premature over time. If you compare the results of two studies by the Federal Center for Health Education on youth sexuality from 1980 and 2006, it becomes clear that in 1980 69 percent of 14-year-old boys said they had already ejaculated, 26 years later the figure is 83 percent . The proportion of boys who have their first ejaculation before their twelfth birthday has risen from seven to 16 percent during this period. Boys also change voices at the age of twelve or thirteen. When Johann Sebastian Bach was leading the St. Thomas Choir, 17 and 18 year olds were still singing sopranos.

What causes puberty?

The hormone GnRH (Gonadotropin Releasing Hormone) gives the impetus for the changes in the body. It arises in large quantities in a certain brain region, the hypothalamus, and stimulates the neighboring pituitary gland (pituitary gland) to produce two further messenger substances: FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone). These stimulate the maturation of the seeds in the testicles and the follicles in the ovaries, where the actual sex hormones are produced: testosterone and estrogens.

Why does the onset of puberty keep moving forward?

Various causes are discussed in science. Two theses are now accepted:

1. Diet has changed

Relationship between obesity and early menarche

The supply of meat, fat, dairy products and vitamins has continuously improved over the past decades. Today young people can eat more healthily - but at the same time they are richer in calories and fatter. The number of overweight children is also increasing in Germany. Science suggests that there is a connection between a rich diet and earlier onset of puberty. Studies have shown that overweight girls often have their first menstrual period earlier. A current example are the results of the child and youth health survey of the Robert Koch Institute (KiGGS), for which 18,000 young people in Germany were questioned and examined. This showed that very overweight girls had their first bleeding at an average age of 10.4 years. Normally weight girls, on the other hand, only do so at 10.8 years.
Findings from the USA about breast development in girls beginning ever earlier point in the same direction. It is assumed that the fatty tissue, with the formation of the hormone-like protein leptin, gives a signal for the beginning of the development of maturity. Leptin controls the energy balance and the feeling of hunger presumably by means of a feedback system via the hypothalamus. When a certain percentage of body fat is present, leptin in the hypothalamus is supposed to give a signal that the body is ready to reproduce. What supports this thesis: The concentrations of leptin change in a systematic way before and during puberty.

2. Influence of the environment

Social pressures also play a role

Changes in the environment are also assumed to have an influence on the shift in the time of ripening. A distinction is made between the social environment, i.e. the influences of peers, the media or the increasing sexualization of society on the one hand and ecological changes or environmental toxins on the other.
Pollutants and hormone-containing care products
The pollutants diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and bisphenol A are now known to damage certain organs such as the liver, kidneys and testes. The plasticizer DEHP, which is mainly used in the manufacture of plastics, was classified as "toxic to reproduction" by the European Parliament in 2005. Toys containing DEHP have not been allowed to be sold since 2006. Bisphenol A is found in plastic products made from polycarbonate. It has the same effect in the human body as the female sex hormone estrogen. Because of this, it is also discussed as a possible cause of premature sexual maturity. Shampoos and care products containing estrogen are also suspected of influencing the postponement of puberty. These products are no longer allowed to be sold in Germany.
Social and psychological influences
Parents' marital problems, changing caregivers, social pressures such as poverty and unemployment of the parents, but also an authoritarian upbringing style are also discussed as at least indirect reasons for an early onset of puberty. It is believed that the lack of a constant and secure attachment increases the tendency to depressive or abnormal behavior and thus the tendency to compensate for the problems caused by overeating.

Not yet in puberty, but in late childhood?

"I don't know what to do. I have nothing to do." That can be changed. How about tidying up? "I am tired." Tired of what? About doing nothing, being bored, not knowing what to do with yourself. If the children's enthusiasm for enterprise did not shine through again and again, one might think that many eight-year-olds are in puberty.

At eight and nine? Quite possible. Above all, however, the behavior is typical for the first phase of adolescence, for growing out of childhood and growing into a stage between childhood and adolescence - and therefore completely normal.

Late childhood is considered relatively inconspicuous and unproblematic, for the parents a respite after the exhausting childhood and before the turbulence of puberty. In fact, the years between eight and twelve are accompanied by major upheavals. These can be reduced to a simple denominator: it gets too tight for big children. That is why they vigorously demand more freedom, more responsibility, more self-determination. Anyone who tries to continue treating them "like babies" will meet with resistance. This behavior becomes apparent, and it is important to know whether or not puberty, i.e. puberty, has already started or not. Children who behave in a "pubescent" manner are not necessarily already in puberty. Although that is also possible.

Big children need more freedom even before puberty

Big children need a confident and loving counterpart

However, early sexual maturity does not make a teenager! In emotional, cognitive, social and not least with regard to sexual activities, eight to twelve year olds are children. The question is, how do you deal with these big kids? The most important thing: Big children can be trusted to do great things. Unlike a few years later, you now have a great deal of confidence in yourself. Many learn amazing skills and expertise, like ten-year-old Ramiz doing his small fish farm. Late childhood is the best time to spark new interests and deepen old ones.

Hobbies are no longer childish gimmicks, but "valuable", serious activities. Big kids want people to take them seriously without applying adult standards at the same time. They love to compete with others, including adults. This is shown, among other things, in a pronounced reputation. Adults who show their superiority here have already lost. When big children overshoot the mark, they need someone to be confident and loving.

Strong words and feelings are a typical expression of this age phase. Big children have to get out of hand and be allowed to be loud. And they are very loud! Screaming, laughing, romping, arguing, fooling around is about creating a "great" feeling in the literal sense of the word. Children now need a lot of freedom of movement, time for games and sports and contact with their peers. If you are not allowed to live out your feelings through movement, you will find it much more difficult to deal with and overcome emotional turbulence.

And what about the sex?

The intense emotional life is also reflected in the fact that big children can fall violently in love. To his mother's horror, ten-year-old Kasimir recently asked a friend's eight-year-old daughter in a text message if she would like to go with him. However, sexual contact is not yet the goal of the longings and should not be talked about out of concern ("Does my child need a condom / pill?"). The first love largely takes place in the heart and mind. Most adolescents get their first "real kiss" when they are 14, and the "first time" still happens between 16-18.

And: Big children who dress or behave like teenagers do not yet want to be seen and treated like teenagers. That would overwhelm her. They sound out how far they can go, how big their radius of freedom is now - bigger if possible than before!

Most children deal with it amazingly responsibly. Because unlike young people, they do not - yet - question the legitimacy of boundaries, says family therapist Oggi Enderlein ("Big Children", German, 12.90 euros). For them there is not the slightest doubt that certain rules apply and that it will remain so for the next few years.