Precocious puberty is when a child enters puberty at an extremely early age. Currently, the Mayo Clinic identifies girls entering puberty prior to the age of eight and boys prior to the age of nine as experiencing precocious puberty [Source: Mayo Clinic]. However, evidence of early physical signs of puberty doesn't necessarily mean your child is undergoing precocious puberty. Technically, precocious puberty is the early onset of both the physical and hormonal changes associated with puberty. The earliest, most obvious physical signs of puberty are breast development for girls and pubic hair growth for boys. It is possible, although rare, for these physical developments to occur early without the associated hormonal changes that define puberty. If your child is showing early signs of puberty, your doctor can do an examination that can let you know for sure. If your daughter menstruates prior to turning nine years old, you will definitely want to have her see an endocrinologist.
Precocious puberty occurs when the brain releases a specific hormone that in turn triggers the pituitary gland to secrete additional hormones that stimulate the growth of secondary sexual characteristics. However, the reason the brain decides to release this hormone early are unknown, although there is some evidence that genetics and obesity can contribute to the occurrence of precocious puberty. In rare cases, precocious puberty may be caused by an injury, brain abnormalities, tumor or hormonal disorder. While precocious puberty itself presents no particular medical problems, you do want to find out if it's caused by one of these other conditions.
Girls are far more likely to experience precocious puberty and African-American girls even more so [Source: Mayo Clinic, Kaplowitz]. The greatest risks for children experiencing precocious puberty are shortness, as well as potential social and emotional problems related to sexually maturing too early.