Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 31/7/17. We felt it deserved another run.
The cult of modernity requires its adherents to believe that civilisation is on a linear upward path of progress and improvement. Coming to harsh conclusions about the degeneracy and sickness of our epoch is not allowed, despite the evidence of steep decline in core facets of existence like social cohesion, happiness, education, health, relationships, fertility rates, wages and governance.
Every now and then though the commissars of thought in the press make a mistake and accidentally report reality without a view to subversion, normally because they don’t realise the ramifications of what they are reporting on.
The Sydney Morning Herald recently published an extract from a book entitled “The New Puberty” by Amanda Dunn, under the title “Something is happening to our kids, and it’s time we talked about it”. The subtitle was “We are seeing a major shift in the development of children, particularly girls. We cannot afford to ignore it and hope it will go away”.
The extract observes that children, and particularly girls, are reaching puberty earlier. The main cause that the extract discusses is childhood obesity, i.e. previous generations did not have calorie surpluses like children do now, therefore the body is effectively receiving calories at such a rate that it “believes” it has the raw materials to begin the adolescent growth and transformation process and therefore does so earlier. In addition, the evidence indicates that menarche has also gotten earlier due to better nutrition as well, i.e. the additional calories are signalling to the body that it now has the availability of resources to create a baby.
Another article from the Herald observed that there was a clear socio-economic and stress link:
“Boys who grow up in hardship are more than four times as at risk of starting puberty aged 10 than those who grow up in safer, wealthier households. And girls who grow up disadvantaged are twice as likely to start puberty early than others.”
The findings suggest that early-onset puberty may be an evolutionary response to trauma and struggle. “When we are raised in sub-optimal living conditions that means we have a higher risk of premature death,” associate professor Sun said. “That means maybe we will die before we’re successfully reproductive, so we would choose an adaptive strategy to mature earlier, to have our first baby earlier, and maybe we could have more kids to ensure our genes transfer to the next generation.”
This was all logical to me so far, the body is responding to stimulus (more calories and/or stress) and reacting in a manner best suited to achieving Darwinian success by passing on its genes. The thing that piqued my interest though, is that while it is well established and acknowledged that our diets are more calorie intensive and that childhood obesity is a problem nowadays, I don’t seem to recall it being as widely acknowledged that modern childhood is significantly worse or sub-optimal, and much interest in analysis of why that is the case.
Let us start with the potential causes of these more stressful childhoods that we are allowed to discuss. Most people will concede that childhood may be more stressful nowadays due to social media and hyper-sexualisation via fashion and popular culture, but these forces are not unstoppable forces of nature. Children are exposed to social media and hyper-sexualisation because adults are choosing to let them be exposed to it. We could choose not to to expose them if we were so inclined. Given the consequences of early puberty, perhaps we should be inclined, “entering puberty young (before 11) correlates with a host of problems, from teenage pregnancy to depression. Only 2% of those who do so go on to enter higher education, regardless of their parents’ IQ and educational level.”
Another major societal change is the large increase in divorce and single mother households. Now this is an area you are allowed to talk about as long as we don’t attribute blame to anyone or to particular social movements:
“On average, a girl whose father divorces or separates from her mother and leaves the family home before she is 10 comes into puberty five months earlier than a girl from an intact family. But the impact of fathers is not limited to whether they are physically present. In intact families, girls reach puberty later if they have a positive rather than a negative relationship with their father; the more he is involved in her upbringing, the later she will have her first period. If the father is absent through illness or work rather than as a result of divorce or separation, the girl’s pubertal age is unaffected. Interestingly, too, an absent mother or a girl’s quality of relationship with her, does not affect the point at which she comes into puberty.”
The end of that quote bordered a little bit on thoughtcrime by implying that a father has a role to play that cannot be filled by a mother, but lets press on:
“Overall, the enormous increase in the divorce rate and in single-parent households since 1960 seems very likely to have played a major role in the decreasing age of puberty. However, it is not clear precisely why an absent or emotionally unengaged father should trigger earlier puberty. The strongest clue comes from the fact that if the father leaves the family home before the girl is six, she is twice as likely to have early first periods and four times more likely to start sex early. It suggests that the disruption to the mother, a lack of cash and all the other problems that go with single parenthood, probably make the girl more likely to be emotionally needy and to be eager to be able to use sexual allure as soon as possible to make people love her. The more times a girl’s family environment changes (with the mother taking new partners) in childhood, the greater the risk of early puberty. If there are three or more new partners, a girl is five times more likely to have a teenage pregnancy.”
Hmmm it might not be clear to the author of that piece why an absent or emotionally unengaged father might be a trigger, but it stands to reason that children are consciously and subconsciously aware if they are under the care and protection of an adult male, i.e. a patriarch. When they know they are not, they are more stressed as a result. I’d even go as far as to posit that boys’ bodies will seek to mature faster to become their own protectors and girls’ bodies will seek to mature faster in order to attract and incentivise a protector.
Further supporting evidence of that hypothesis is the link between having older brothers and a later menarche that Australian researchers observed in girls. Once again it would appear to be a direct result of these younger sisters being aware that they are under the protection and care of their older brother(s), whilst girls without older brothers are aware that they aren’t. All of this aligns with the previously discussed Darwinian imperatives of ensuring survival of the genes.
Given the well documented correlation between physiologically altering levels of stress in a child’s formative years, early puberty and a variety of undesirable life outcomes, shouldn’t we as a society be making an effort to push back? Maybe the patriarchal role of the father as the protector of the family should be restored, maybe divorces shouldn’t be encouraged by social movements and subsidized by governments?
The heresy I am committing is implying that things are worse now then they were before, and that our society is an instigator. The facts and trends show that childhood is objectively more stressful and therefore worse now. Society has made choices to create conditions for children that result in the children experiencing levels of existential stress that are literally altering their biology. Criticism of these societal choices is frowned upon, as these choices were “progressive”.
It should be clear that there is no escaping biology, and realism about biology is certainly not welcome in this “modern age”. I’ll finish this piece with the ultimate thoughtcrime I found whilst researching this, and will let you draw your own conclusions.
“Living in a homogeneous neighborhood may also be helpful: early-maturing fifth graders of Mexican descent showed fewer symptoms of depression by seventh grade when they lived in Hispanic neighborhoods compared with similar girls living in more diverse neighborhoods, according to another study. It is unclear, however, why homogeneity may have helped.”