At the time of the Civil War, girls generally reached puberty around age 15 to 17. Today, it's much earlier -- around 10, with some physical developments as young as 7. For reasons not fully understood, nature seems to be rushing girls into adulthood long before they're emotionally mature enough for it.
Compounding this problem, some elements of society tend to sexualize girls too soon, prodding them to be little Lolitas when they should be enjoying the natural romping life of childhood.
France's upper house of Parliament just voted to ban beauty pageants for girls younger than 16.
"Let us not allow our girls to think from a young age that their worth is judged only by their appearance," a woman senator declared. She and other French feminists protested a fashion magazine spread showing child models in tight dresses, lipstick and high heels.
The <I>Christian Science Monitor<P> says the proposed law, which would throw pageant operators in jail, "doesn't address the basic problem of parents, mainly mothers, who push girls to become beauty queens or models, often forcing them to portray the hypersexualized looks of, say, a twerking Miley Cyrus."
West Virginia can hear an echo of this problem in the sad story of JonBenet Ramsey, daughter of a former Miss West Virginia. The first-grader, who had won multitudes of child beauty pageants, was beaten and strangled in her Colorado basement on Christmas Day, 1996. A Boulder newspaper says a grand jury secretly indicted her parents on charges of child abuse causing death -- but the charge never was made public or prosecuted. The case remains unsolved.
We can't guess whether France's ban will be passed, or whether other nations will follow suit. But we hope a public attitude shift lets little girls remain children, despite changes by nature and cultural inducement to make them adults before their time.