Opal had worked the front desk of the elementary school for nearly five decades. Long past retirement age, this was not work; it was her life. Fresh out of secretarial school back in the early-sixties, she found a position at a brand new school in the quiet community she loved.
Having been the school secretary for such a span had given Opal the chance to enroll kids in Kindergarten and watch them throughout their early schooling—and then have some of them bring their own kids to enroll years later. In the last of couple decades she’d seen a darker side too—child custody issues, abuse, and drugs. But for Opal, it was still her life and even though she saw the brokenness, the pieces were real children, and they were precious to her.
Yet, one thing was an enigma to her—why were the girls seemingly getting older so much faster? She remembered in the early years how the school district nurse would gather the 6th grade girls, mostly 12 year olds, and explain puberty—and all of the changes to come. It was done quietly and respectfully.
Now, girls in 3rd grade were learning the same things—and the boys too. Opal noticed that many of the youngsters still longed to play like kids, not deal with something as serious as sex. But Opal couldn’t deny that some of the 3rd grade girls had “blossomed” early. What was happening?
What Opal has observed is something many others have seen as well. An interesting new book, The New Puberty, points to three key things affecting the onset of early puberty in girls. Scientists have identified more than 800 chemicals that interfere with human hormones—affecting the onset of puberty. Children should avoid antibiotics in meat and dairy, the BPAs in plastics and cans, pesticides, and the flame-retardants that are prevalent in kiddy clothes.
Then there’s the issue of obesity. Research shows that 20% of kids and adolescents are now obese. That’s three times the amount that Opal used to see. Body fat affects puberty onset even more than age does. Parents need to provide a healthy diet and plenty of time for exercise. Great habits for a lifetime too.
Last, researchers zeroed in on something that is so prevalent in our culture—family strife. Scores of depressed parents, absent fathers, higher divorce rates, low marriage rates, low-income families, single-parent homes, all have been correlated with early puberty. Ironically enough, early puberty causes even more stress for the child. Creating the perfect family won’t happen, but creating a loving environment can.
It helps knowing that there are things we can control in a world that seems to be spinning out of control. Opal knows that today’s kids are tomorrow’s future, so at age 73 she opened an after school program where kids can be kids—no screen time allowed, just playgrounds and board games. In a world that has kids growing up way too fast, she’s a one-woman answer to slowing things down.