Precocious puberty

  • Research shows that sexual content in the media helps to trigger early development

Oct 3, 2017-

Kids mature faster these days. Not a big deal, right? But many parents are concerned that it’s happening too fast when little girls need training bras at age seven and little boys begin throwing lustful stares at nine. The phenomenon is popularly known as precocious puberty. Puberty is much easier to identify in girls—their first period—and probably because of that, there have been more studies on female puberty. Studies have revealed that a connection of multiple factors causes immature puberty, such as unbalanced nutrition, genetic disorder, hormonal fluctuation, obesity, and most surprisingly, sexual content in the media.

Many Nepali parents aren’t aware that overtly sexualised party songs and sex scenes on TV can easily transform their naive daughter into a Lolita. Adolescence is a natural process and it is indeed a very upsetting phase in a girl’s life. And if it occurs when she is still busy in the world of toys and dolls, it can be quite 

troublesome as her innocent brain cannot synchronise adequately with her developing body and sexual interest. Breast development is now happening at age eight or even less. Urban Nepal is no exception. Some village girls have their first period when they are 14-15 years old, but girls from urban societies are bleeding before their ninth birthday. This precocious maturity trend, medical experts fear, may raise the risk of breast cancer and sexual health hazards. 

Embedded messages

During our research conducted among school children in Kathmandu, we found that small girls spend more than three hours daily watching pop culture music videos and dance shows which bombard their brain with subtle sexual messages. Almost every Bollywood movie or song made since the 1990s contains nude scenes of one kind or another. Reality shows and other TV programmes have sexual overtones and then, of course, there is the internet and ads that use sensual presentation to sell products. 

Visually erotic media outlets designed to stimulate sexual moods are increasingly available nowadays which function as feasible sexual material and encourage sexual activity among the younger generation. The internet offers an ocean of sexual content which are easily available to eager adolescents who have access to the web, or their parents’ smartphones. These children are technologically more forward than their parents, and with a few keystrokes, they can secretly access pornographic content under their parent’s nose.

Similarly, the mass media also fulfils the role of ‘alternative peer’ in many girls’ lives. Much research has occurred to examine the relationship between sexual content in the media and adolescents’ changing attitudes, but only a few have suggested that teens become familiar with sex through the media. Girls maturing earlier than their counterparts are more exposed to the media which helps them to satisfy their sexual curiosity as this is not provided by their peer group.  

Today, a majority of young girls can watch different media broadcasts in the privacy of their own homes, and thus they can choose what they want to see. Research conducted by the American Academy of Paediatrics suggests that adolescents who were disposed to media contents with more erotic references were more likely to accept premarital sex than others.

Having ‘the talk’ More urban parents are finding themselves in the bizarre situation 

of having puberty discussions with their first or second grader. Because of cultural and moral taboos associated with menstruation, many Nepali families hesitate to have such talks with their daughters. In the academic curriculum too, such topics are not included until Grade 6. “By the time we read about menstruation in textbooks, my peers and I had already started having our periods,” said Rojina Shrestha, a seventh grader at Okhreni Secondary School.

A little more concern from the parental side may help to counteract at least some causes of early maturity. In one way, controlling what media content children see may also offer some protection. These days, it’s really important to exercise caution by monitoring children’s use of social media and making sure they’re not entering unhealthy sites. I think it’s better to let kids be kids, and controlling their access to such materials will help to maintain a sound balance between their mind, body and soul as per their age.

- Poudyal is a freelance writer and child health researcher at Kathmandu based NGO, Global Initiative For Vivid Empowerment (GIVE)

Published: 03-10-2017 08:14

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