Is Adrenarche- Adolescence Lite?

Disclosure :: This post is sponsored by Ochsner Lafayette General.

Is Adrenarche- Adolescence Lite?

What is Adrenarche?Recently, a resident was talking about the animated television series The Magic School Bus, which many now-parents grew up watching. A former schoolteacher herself, this resident was jealous of the show’s teacher, Ms. Frizzle. She wasn’t jealous of the magic school bus – that can transform into a spaceship, submarine, or whatever cool vehicle was needed to take the class on a fantastical field trip – no, her beef was how Ms. Frizzle managed to have only eight kids in her class.

School is starting again, and that comes with the usual back-to-school stressors for children: a new teacher, new kids in the class (way more than eight!), possibly a new school and more. And school can be even harder when a child’s body begins to rebel against a smooth start. No, we’re not talking about puberty or ADHD, but about a hormonal issue that affects children as young as 8 years old. This is an issue getting more press and parental attention: adrenarche (adren-r-kee).

What is Adrenarche?

Adrenarche is a hormone change in children around second or third grade. They begin to develop pubic hair and may get mild acne, but not to the extent that teenagers do. They may also begin to have body odor, and that can be rough. Nothing makes children a target for teasing or bullying like smelling bad. Furthermore, adrenarche can also cause mood swings, affecting children’s happiness in school and at home.

We expect out-of-proportion anger, tearfulness, and defiance from teens, but many parents are bewildered when their second grader starts acting out. If a child is also dealing with back-to-school stressors and body odor, it can be a real calamity. They’ve lost their ability to “roll with the punches,” to deal with these crises with grace. Thus, you’ll have to pick up the slack by being extra patient with your child.

What is the difference between adrenarche and puberty? 

Puberty and adrenarche are separate processes that your child’s body goes through, usually at the same time, but not always.

  • Adrenarche means “the awakening of the adrenal gland.” The adrenal gland is responsible for making hormones including androgens—sex hormones that cause changes such as the development of pubic hair, oily skin, oily hair and body odor. 
  • During puberty, the brain sends signals to glands in the testes for boys and ovaries for girls, spurring the development of sperm, eggs and other secondary sexual characteristics (such as breasts for girls and a deepening voice for boys).

What do the doctors say about Adrenarche?

Adrenarche is a bit of a mystery to pediatric endocrinologists, the specialists in children’s hormones. They know which hormones are ramping up, but the puzzle is that it’s now happening to kids younger and younger. What used to be an issue for 10- to 12-year-olds is happening now at age 8. This earlier start doesn’t seem to affect a child’s ultimate height or development, but if it’s actual early puberty, it can.

When does your child need to see a doctor? If he/she is having more pubertal changes, like breast development, growth spurts or enlarging genitalia, that may be premature puberty. If any of these signs are present, then you’ll need a referral to a pediatric endocrinologist. 

What can you do if your child is having a rough adrenarche?

One stressor —body odor—is easy. Have them shower daily, preferably just before school, particularly cleaning their armpits. Help them pick out a deodorant that won’t itch. For mood swings, try time-outs for real blow-ups, one minute of quiet for each year of age (8-year-olds in for 8 minutes). A calm discussion on how to manage emotions and choose better reactions should follow. And always be forgiving. Explain that this is a normal phase that they’ll learn to manage and eventually outgrow. Be consistent, firm and fair; skills you’ll need a few years later when the hormones really go nuts!

About the Author 

Dr. Scott Hamilton is the director of the pediatric treatment area in the Ochsner Lafayette Dr. Scott Hamilton is the director of the pediatric treatment area in the Ochsner Lafayette General Medical Center emergency department.General Medical Center emergency department. He has practiced emergency pediatrics for 30 years, the past 14 at OLGMC. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics for the LSU Medical School in New Orleans, and for the Family Medicine residency at Ochsner University Hospital & Clinics here in Lafayette. He and his wife have three kids. 

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