Girls who hit puberty early are more likely to experience dating violence and sexual abuse, according to a study reported in Hindustan Times.

A study conducted in the University of Pennsylvania found that girls who hit puberty early and develop physically faster than their peer group are at more risk of having low self-esteem as well as emotional and behavioural problems. They are also more at risk of experiencing physical or sexual violence.

The research relied on available data collected from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health. Data of 3,870 girls, from ages 13 to 17, were studied. The survey included questions ranging from the age of onset of their menstrual cycle to whether they are more physically developed than their peers. It also included queries on whether their dating partner had engaged in any form of abuse.

It was also observed that early maturing girls are more at risk of experiencing sexual abuse from their dating partner if they have more boys in their peer group. Lead researcher Sara R Jaffee said, “We didn’t expect the number of boys in a group to have a big impact, but that emerged as a primary moderator of this risk of being abused in a dating relationship.”

Girls who are more developed than their same-age, same-race peers in pubertal development have a 14% increased risk of facing dating abuse

Although the researchers expected that having more number of older male friends might reduce the risk, the study suggested that having more male friends in the group contributed to an increased risk of dating abuse.

Jaffee feels this might be because early developed girls are more likely to have more male attention, and more males asking them out and showing interest, which just increases the odds of one of them being abusive. The risk is also likely to increase because early developing girls have lower self-esteem.

With the findings, she feels that parents should have this conversation of healthy relationships with their kids, especially when they see their daughter having early development. “These are conversations that parents find really uncomfortable, but this underscores that they need to be happening, for parents of girls and boys,” said Jaffee.

Maturing early should not be considered determinative of facing sexual abuse, not every fast developing girl faces it, but it is sure a risk factor which should not be neglected.

Also Read: 9 Effective Ways To Boost Your Self-Esteem