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Little Girls Gone Wild: Why Daughters Are Acting Too Sexy, Too Soon

Push-up bras, pedicures, hip-hop dance classes: These are now the social currency of the under-10 set. What happened?

When to say no... and when to say nothing

It was already too late when Lisa Khakee, a mom of two girls, 4 and 7, realized she might have gone too far. "I've been to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique," she laments, referring to the salon at Disney World where girls are painted with glitter makeup and given hair extensions and manicures. "And I have no one to blame but myself. I'd heard about it from other parents; my girls had no idea what it was." The end result was beauty treatments her kids found mildly amusing at best and painful and itchy at worst. "They had more bobby pins and hair-spray in their hair than I did on my wedding night," says Lisa, whose youngest deconstructed the 'do as soon as they left. In retrospect, she feels foolish for buying her girls a full-on salon experience when they hadn't even thought to want it.

But what happens when they do want it, expressing interest in something you can't stand (like, say, Bratz dolls, those bedroom-eyed plastic playthings that appear to be dressed for a shift at the Hustler Club)? Veteran teachers I spoke with said one of the biggest changes in students over the years is they've grown less and less accustomed to the word no. People are putting their kids in the driver's seat, but, let's face it, kids are crappy drivers. Your daughter may love the sweats with JUICY emblazoned across the butt - but she also may love eating Pixy Stix for lunch. "We've learned to feel that we can't go up against the culture or the peer group," Orenstein told me. "But I really think you can. Your child wants to know your values."

Yet simply putting your foot down won't work. "When you do say no, you have to treat it as a more complicated issue," says Diane Levin, Ph.D., a professor of education at Wheelock College in Boston and coauthor of So Sexy So Soon. "You can't just say, 'Here's the right answer,' thinking it will sink in." Ask your kids why they like the toy or TV show they're begging for. "It gives you the opportunity to add other voices in their heads besides advertising or their peers."

Jodi Belshe of Overland Park, KS, was appalled when she heard her 10-year-old mindlessly singing Katy Perry's song "California Gurls," warbling lyrics about women wearing "Daisy Dukes, bikinis on top." Jodi resisted the urge to freak out and instead asked her daughter what she thought the song's message was. Her daughter said, "I guess it's about girls showing off their bodies." Jodi wondered aloud if her daughter thought that was a great way to get attention. "I think I'd rather my friends liked me because I was smart or kind," she answered after some thought, to her mother's relief. "Well, that's why I don't want you to listen to that song," Jodi said. "Neither of us agrees with the message."

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