Boys hitting puberty younger alongside girls

Much of the attention on dropping puberty rates through the years has been on girls. Last year we noted that more girls are experiencing early puberty than before. This week the news turns to boys.

According to a new American Academy of Pediatrics study just released (here’s a NY Times summary), boys are entering puberty earlier now than the past few decades.

That is, earlier based what we know of the maturation of boys. Historically this has been ambiguous, but this new study is considered by many to be the most reliable on record. Typically 11 ½ has been considered the average age puberty begins in boys. The new study places the average closer to 9-10, primarily based on testicle growth as a lead indicator. This is the first major study in 25 years to attempt to learn more about the onset of puberty in boys. It’s also important to remember that the onset of puberty isn’t the same as sexual reproductive maturity; even with girls early signs of puberty don’t always translate into early menstruation, and this new study didn’t at all explore age of first ejaculation (something doctors, parents, and kids all seem to freak out about asking, but that’s part of why we don’t know much).

We don’t know what’s causing the shift (if it is in fact a shift) but as with girls, possibilities include changes in diet, less physical activity, and other environmental factors. As with girls, African-American boys in the study began puberty earlier than white or Hispanic boys on average.

What does this mean for parents and youth workers? It helps confirm what we’ve really already known: we need to be talking earlier and more about sexuality with both girls and boys. They need our help navigating the changes they’re experiencing. And for many boys, those changes could be coming much earlier than we thought or have assumed.