News and Tribune


November 20, 2012

BEAM: Thank heaven for not-so-little boys

Trying to warm-up before a basketball game, the varsity cheerleaders stretched and twisted in the auxiliary gym of our local high school. Doing nothing out of the ordinary, the gals were practicing things cheerleaders do, like bopping and jumping and hollering for their team.

So why were so many fourth-grade boys, including my son, gazing at those pretty ladies rather than paying attention to their basketball practice?

My friend said the kids stared with open mouths. She took a photo with her phone to preserve the moment, and chuckled to herself at the way the boys handled themselves. A few giggled. Others whispered. Most just turned and gawked at the girls with a smile.

Playfully, I questioned my son about it. He turned bright crimson in his face and denied any wrongdoing; a sure bet that he was in fact in on it. The boy, my little boy, who thought the female species to be yucky and annoying, has reconsidered his views. Although he won’t admit it to his uncool mom, he likes girls; a sure sign that he’s growing up. There’s no going back.

Mothers fret about their sons reaching certain milestones. Driving, registering for the draft, going away to college and getting married rank high on that growing up list. Throw shaving on there as well. Razors around throats can never be easily accepted. But I never figured that my almost 10-year-old noticing the opposite sex would be one of those moments.

Yet, it is.

Of course, I shouldn’t be too surprised. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study last month that revealed American boys are undergoing the start of puberty six months to two years earlier than previously thought.

Guess when the average age on onset arrives for a nonHispanic white male. Yep, 10.14 years, or around fourth grade. For nonHispanic black males, the average age of arrival is even earlier by a full year at 9.14 years. From its inception, puberty can take up to five years to complete from beginning to end.

Although able to prove the earlier commencement, researchers could not determine why exactly boys, and girls for that matter, are maturing at a younger age than only a few decades ago. Some blame the growing obesity epidemic, while others still question the plethora of hormone-laden chemicals in water and food.

Likewise, we don’t know the health implications, if any, that might accompany the trend. Girls who mature earlier typically have a greater risk for breast cancer, depression and low self-esteem, not to mention an increased chance of participating in precarious behaviors. Studies still need to be conducted as to whether or not boys would share similar consequences.

Checking out pretty girls, in and of itself, isn’t a sign of puberty. Physical changes reflect its onset, not just behavioral one. That’s somewhat of a relief.

Still, we need to start talking to our children about certain things. No, I’m not ready. I thought watching Animal Planet and the Discovery Planet would have explained the, let’s say, biological protocols to ensuring the survival of the species. Unfortunately, it hasn’t fully.

I learned the basics from a fourth grade school video, the one in which all the boys had to go to a separate room. Do those still exist? I doubt it. Parental responsibility perseveres once again.  

After the talk, things will be the same.  My son won’t change overnight. At least, I hope he doesn’t. Why can I not get the image of the Hulk out of my mind? I’m first to admit this is unfamiliar territory for us as parents. Hopefully, as a mother, I have taught my two boys through the years to respect women, and of course, themselves. That’s all I can ask.

At present, my son has curled up on the coach to watch some NBA games. Cheerleaders dance across the screen with their pompoms shaking. He fails to notice and instead asks about the coaching change for the Lakers.

Peace of mind has been restored, albeit briefly, to our happy household once again.

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at

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