Some things never change. In a class picture, the tall kids are always in the back row and the short kids are always in front. Chances are at least one parent of each of the children stood in the same spot in their own class photos. With height, it always comes down to nature vs. nurture.
"Height is one of the traits that is pretty strongly inherited," said Dr. Andrew Barnes, assistant professor in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Minnesota.
At what rate that height is achieved depends on the child's sex (girls tend to reach their full growth sooner than boys do) and when they experience growth spurts. The first jump occurs for both genders when the child is between the ages of 1 and 2 years old; the second is typically around age 12 for girls and 14 for boys.
"In boys, growth spurts usually happen around the end of puberty, after they have developed physically in terms of things like the appearance of hair," said Barnes. "Girls tend to grow at the beginning of puberty right up to the time when they get their periods. After that, girls are done growing."
The real issue is not the number of inches they will reach, but the level of comfort kids feel about their height in relation to their friends and classmates, especially during those vulnerable early teenage years.
"That's the time when the shortest boy in the class doesn't love where he is at and neither does the tallest girl," said Barnes.
In fact, kids have been taking stock of those around them since they began school, when they realize what their size is in comparison with others in kindergarten. However, it is around sixth grade when some kids tend to become concerned about their ultimate height, said Barnes.
As a behavioral pediatrician, he has found that kids approach height in different ways. Early-blooming boys often tell him they do not mind the extra attention they receive from peers, while late-blooming boys struggle. Girls who grow and develop early typically do not welcome the attention and can have self- esteem issues as a result.
"That's a time when a young person's identity is changing. Parents might want to talk to their child and ask them how they are feeling about their bodies in general," said Barnes. "Whether they are tall or short, ask them if they feel people treat them a certain way. Ask what they like or don't like about their size. Listen to what they have to say."
Big and bigger
In my family, the subject of height has always been front and center. My son, James, was 221/2 inches long at birth and has been "off the charts" ever since. Now 22, he is 6 feet 9 inches tall. Yes, he played basketball -- from the time he was about 7 years old -- all the way through college, where he finished his final season at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in February.
As a parent, I feel fortunate that James always liked being tall and has been good-natured toward comments about his height. He admits he has "heard every tall joke imaginable" and long ago became accustomed to people staring at him. (I often tell him if he had charged $1 to everyone who asked him over the years how tall he is, his college tuition would have been covered.)
"It was always fun being the tallest in the class. It gave me an identity," he said. "All of my friends still call me 'Big James' and I've really kind of liked always being noticed. I guess I embraced the gift of being tall."
Check with doctor
Although some kids can be late bloomers, Barnes said that if a boy or girl reaches those growth spurt years of 14 and 12, respectively, without showing any signs of significant growth or development, parents might want to talk to the child's doctor. (Typically, growth plates close when a child is between ages 16 and 18.)
Since summer is the season of fall sports physicals and many kids will be getting checkups, Barnes advises parents, if they have concerns, to schedule a few minutes to talk privately with their child's doctor.
Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.
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