And to relationships with much older partnersA precocious girl may make her parents happy, but later, the issue can turn nasty.
A team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill points out that teenaged girls who mature physically earlier than their counterparts do and who, also maintain a romantic relationship with a two years older partner are more exposed to substance abuse, sex and a combination of both. "Adolescent girls and boys all are at risk for experimenting with sex, alcohol and drugs," said Carolyn Tucker Halpern, associate professor of maternal and child health in the UNC School of Public Health.
"Those who mature early are known to be at higher risk for these problems. But within that group, girls who have an older boyfriend appear to be at an extra risk for multiple high-risk behaviors such as intravenous drug use, marijuana use and sexual intercourse."
The research was done on a nationally representative sample of roughly 4,000 teen subjects involved in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. At the beginning of the survey (during the 1994-1995 school year) the subjects were younger than 15 and were monitored through follow-up surveys. 20 % of the teen girls who matured physically earlier than their counterparts reported maintaining a relationship with an older romantic partner, compared to just 4 % in the case of normal puberty age.
In the sample, the number of boys with older girlfriends was too small to permit the drawing of any conclusions about whether older partners rose the boys' risk for engaging in drug abuse and early sex.
But having a romantic partner of any age meant a higher risky behavior for both boys and girls. Over 40 % of the teens had no romantic partners, and over 36 % of girls and 47 % of boys had romantic partners of the same age or younger. "This research should be a caution for parents. Parents of all teenagers have a responsibility for talking to their children and guiding them through romantic relationships and the risks of drug use. But this study shows that parents of girls who reach puberty ahead of the peers and who have an older boyfriend should take a special interest", said Halpern.