March 2007
She’s Your Daughter and She Needs You

by Annie Fox, M.Ed

When an 11-year-old writes that her boyfriend wants to have sex but she’s ‘scared cuz all we’ve done so far is oral,’ something’s monumentally wrong.
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Over the past decade research has indicated that girls are getting their periods earlier and earlier. Experts weighed in about the ramifications of the early onset of puberty. Higher risk for cancer, violent victimization and depression made the list. (Depression in girls can lead to cutting, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sexual promiscuity.) Scientists explored the possible causes of this “trend”. Turns out, according to the research done by biologist Sandra Steingraber, American girls’ onset of menarche (getting their first period) has pretty much stayed the same for the past 35 years. That is, 12.8 years to 12.6 years. What has changed fairly dramatically is the onset of thelarche (the development of breasts). According to the studies Steingraber reviewed in her ground-breaking 1998 book Living Downstream: A Scientist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment, “By age 8, 14% of American girls have breasts.”

Pacific Sun - click for storyThe causes, it seems, may have little to do with biology. Steingraber said in a recent interview with the Pacific Sun, “We have… hijacked that system [reproductive readiness as determined by one’s biological clock] and bombarded it with signals that speed [things up].” The apparent triggers of early breast development are a slew of environmental factors including: sedentary lifestyle, high calorie diets, vinyl shower curtains, and too much TV.

I read this and immediately thought about all the sex-related email I get from 11-15 year-olds. Younger and younger girls are finding themselves in sexual situations. Obviously they shouldn’t be there and they haven’t a clue how to handle it, but there they are. When an 11-year-old writes that her boyfriend wants to have sex but she’s “scared cuz all we’ve done so far is oral,” something is so monumentally wrong I don’t know where to begin.

Buffalo Jeans ad - click for more infoGirls are overdosing on sexualized images of girls and women on TV (and in movies, magazines and on the Internet) with no understanding of how that’s affecting their self-image image and their behavior. Apparently all that sexy stuff may be triggering their brains into believing it’s time to become a woman. Hormones rush in, breasts develop on 3rd graders and suddenly your little girl is getting a whole lot of attention from the boys.

The brain of a young adolescent just isn’t sufficiently developed to help her control her impulses or predict the consequences of her actions. And I’m not just dumping on girls! Boys have the same temporary brain “dysfunction” so sharply described by Michael Bradley in his book Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! A whole other topic is how to raise responsible, caring sons. I’ll tackle that in an upcoming issue.

Why be surprised when a teen girl and guy without adult supervision do what they do? Fueled by a huge database of sexual imagery, hormones, equally clueless peers, precious little in the way of instilled values from responsible adults plus the inability to think clearly, and I’d be shocked if they didn’t “mess around,” as they so romantically put it. And that’s without adding alcohol and/or drugs into that mix!

Here are some typical “problems” 6th-9th graders write to me about:

  • “I met this guy in a chat room. We like talked raunchy and stuff. I started liking him a lot, but he’s from another state. I feel really desperate for a boyfriend. I know I’m only 13, but it’s driving me absolutely crazy that I don’t have one.” (Read my response)
  • Guess ad“He wants to be friends with benefits so that we can have sex but I don’t know what to do. What if I get hurt or he leaves me after? I would be crushed. He says he doesn’t want me to be his girlfriend but he wants me in his life. I just don’t understand it.” (Read my response)
  • “My friend (14) just lost her virginity to a guy who is a total jerk. They’ve had sex twice and both times they didn’t use protection. Right now she’s waiting to see if she’s pregnant (she was lucky last time). I’m really worried and upset because she doesn’t even act like she is in love or happy she just sorta said, ’ok.’ It’s like she needs him to feel good about herself.” (Read my response)
  • “Recently I met this guy. He’s really nice and funny and cute and like, perfect. We get along really great and can talk for hours. I really like him, and it seems like he likes me too, but there’s kinda a problem. He just turned 19, and I’m 14.” (Read my response)

To balance out the picture of how casually many girls view sexual activity, here’s one I just got today, from a 13-year-old boy:

  • “I am 13 years old and I had this girlfriend. We only went on two dates and all we did was kiss but I was a real ass**** and told everyone we had sex even though we didn’t. I never thought she would find out about my little white lie, but she did cuz now she won’t talk to me or even look at me. What should I do?” (Read my response)

This kid honestly thought this was a “little white lie.” What does that say about the attitude middle school students have about sex? Like no biggie, right?

If Mom isn’t consistently using teachable moments and plenty of role modeling to help her daughter learn what it means to be a capable, competent, assertive, self-respecting woman and Dad isn’t consistently giving his daughter unconditional love and a healthy dose of male approval for being smart, creative, athletic, etc., then you’ve got a formula for trouble.

Did I mention that the little girl with breasts is totally confused?

In case you need more evidence, the girls commonly signs their emails to me: Desperate, So Desperate, In Need of Help, Lost in Love, Confused and in love, Miss Confused, Sorta Confused, Very Confused, Highly Confused.

Did I mention that the little girl with breasts is “Totally Confused”? She doesn’t know what to do when guys pressure her for sex. She feels the need to acquiesce otherwise he’ll dump her. Even when she isn’t “in love” with her boyfriend, she often stays in the relationship because she “doesn’t want to hurt him.” She’s gotten the message that her value, as a girl and as a person, is measured by whether she has boyfriend. In her eyes a bad boyfriend is so much better than no boyfriend. So she starts putting out earlier and earlier. Sorry to be crude here, but let’s call it what it is.

Your 11-15 year old needs information about sex. This isn’t “The Talk”… this is a whole series of talks… over several years. The focus for girls and boys is self-respect and respect for others. Our girls especially need us to talk to them about sex, sexuality, gender equity and self-esteem.

Photo by Ezra FoxDad, you need to be helping your daughter value herself beyond her gender. Mom, you need to be a safe, non-judgmental person for your daughter to talk to about all things sexual. I’m not suggesting that all 11-15 year-old girls are sexually active. They’re not! But most of them think about this stuff a lot. If they aren’t already in these situations, it won’t be long before they’re pressured to be. A parent’s denial about what your little girl’s life is like when she’s not at home isn’t preparing her to make healthy choices. It’s clear from what girls write to me that many of them are on a runaway train heading for a cliff. I can’t be their mom or their dad… only you can.

In friendship,

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