Virtually every parent experiences anxiety as his or her daughter approaches puberty. Although adolescence is a perfectly natural stage of child development, parents know that it's a time wrought with inner turmoil, bodily changes, and shifts in family and relationships. Although both girls and boys experience the hormonal changes associated with adolescence, puberty for girls can have a more significant and long lasting social impact.
Traditionally, the onset of menses has been a rite of passage for girls, signaling that they have made the transition from little girls to young women. However, health statistics indicate an alarming trend that menstruation is occurring in ever-younger girls, often as young as seven or eight. Although no one knows for certain why girls are menstruating so early, researchers have put forth hypotheses ranging from the higher incidence of childhood obesity to environmental factors like the long-term consumption of beef cattle that are injected with growth hormones. The onset of menstruation in young girls can be confusing and embarrassing, whereas menses in eleven- or twelve-year olds is often held up as a badge of honor among a girl's peers.
In many ways, breast development is more significant for girls than the start of menstruation. From an historical perspective alone, women's breasts have been revered and defiled, the source of humankind's most basic sustenance and the source of men's most base desires. The earliest statuary and art depict women's breasts as the ultimate in feminine beauty.
Within the context of student life, a girl's breast development often defines her standing in the social pecking order, as well as her desirability to boys. Girls who develop breasts at a young age, or who develop large breasts often find that family and relationships shift dramatically. Girls who have male friends may find that the boys begin to distance themselves as girls' breasts develop, or that their attention shifts from platonic interests to sexual interests.
Perhaps even more significant, girls are subject to intense breast envy. Early developers may be ostracized or gossiped about, and late bloomers may suffer the same fate. Because girls who develop large breasts often receive more attention from boys, breast envy in smaller-chested girls can rear its ugly head. Promiscuity-related rumors, although untrue, may plague large-breasted girls, although they, in turn, may exclude those with smaller breasts from popular cliques.
Parental Roles in Self-Esteem
As mothers themselves can painfully recall, puberty for girls lays the foundation for a woman's self-esteem. In order to help their daughters navigate the waters of adolescence, it's crucial that parents understand the underpinnings of breast envy, and how that phenomena can transform some girls into alpha females. Puberty is such a confusing time for girls that guidance from parents, in the form of open communication as well as the sharing of books and other resources, can go far to ensure that their daughters grow up with a healthy sense of self-esteem.