I remember Nikita as a sweet eight year old kid living two blocks away from my place. This autumn when I went home for my holidays, I was shocked by a strange transformation in the little girl. She was no longer vivacious and carefree, but was sullen most of the time, used swear words incessantly and was prone to frequent mood swings. On investigating further into the matter, I found that she had already begun waxing and made a conscious effort to hide her developing breasts by multiple layers of clothing. Nikita was taken to a gynecologist and as we had suspected, these were the signs of early sexual maturation, a condition known as ‘precocious puberty’. I was aghast by the fact that Nikita was already having her periods. This may come as a shock to some but according to the latest figures, puberty is setting in almost 5 years earlier than the normal ‘time-frame‘ in girls around the world.
One of the major factors for this unnatural transformation can be attributed to obesity and the excessive consumption of ‘junk-food’. An enormous intake of non-vegetarian food also aggravates this condition. Obesity stimulates the production of a hormone leptin which triggers puberty earlier than it should, and also generates insulin resistance,which in turn results in accumulation of more fat. Thus the vicious cycle begins .Children with excessive TV viewing and those exposed to other ‘endocrine disrupters‘ like certain chemicals in cosmetics, plastics and pesticides have been found to attain puberty earlier. If studies are to be believed,watching too much television can suppress the production of melanin, a hormone which slows down sexual maturation.
Early puberty has its own set of side effects. These girls tend to be more sexually inclined, more indulgent in high-risk behaviour resulting in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. They are also at greater risk for sexual abuse. They may not have the desire for reciprocal sex but can often be coaxed into having intercourse because their mental maturation is still that of an eight year old. Early puberty also increases the risk of breast cancer threefold. These children have a sudden spurt of growth disproportionate for their age that ceases suddenly and as a result, makes them short statured as adults. Hence the correct diet , exercise and proper upbringing is very important.
Young boys are also affected by early onset of sexual maturity. It is not manifested as external signs of maturity but a marked alteration in behaviour is observed. They become withdrawn and sometimes exhibit anti-social tendencies. The premature sexual development can also cause mental retardation or delayed development of the brain in which case even though the individual attains the physique of an adult at the onset of the teens, their mental capabilities might be those of an eight year old.
The environment that these innocent kids are exposed to these days is even more distressing. Some how, the carefree innocence of childhood is quickly dissipating. Young girls like Nikita in spite of being intelligent and aware of whats and hows of social behaviour, get tremendously upset at making a slight mistake, which is saddening since they try too hard to behave like grown ups all the time. The environment these kids are subjected to while at school or at a friend’s place is even more distressing. Most kids today have Facebook accounts and are under enormous peer pressure to watch ‘cool and adult’ shows on the television, and most have even been through breakups at the young age of ten. At a time when they should be worried about dolls and games, they worry about their relationship status and posting the coolest and the sexiest profile picture on Facebook. They learn to suppress their feelings under a mask of sophistication. They worry about their pedicures and manicures and hardly associate themselves with adventure books or encyclopedias.
I think its time to sit up and take notice. It’s time we give back the childhood to our children before it gets too late.
©The Idea Bucket, 2012. (Contributed by team-member, Pallavi)
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