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Health & Parenting

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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?

The terrifying truth: It starts with princesses continued...

What begins with Cinderella is followed, once girls hit grade school, by less innocent stuff: TV programs like Hannah Montana and iCarly, which center around eye-rolling, miniskirt-clad girls whose idea of success is being a rock diva or a reality star. Their rapt audience - most in the 6-to-11-year-old demographic - follows the shows and the offscreen lives of their stars with wide-eyed curiosity. And then so many of those tween idols - girls such as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, even Miley - wind up as premature sex symbols, headed for a fall. You can argue it has always been thus (Maureen McCormick has said she traded sex for cocaine shortly after playing Marcia Brady - Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!), but back then we never heard a peep about it. Now our 24-hour news cycle brings their skimpy outfits and crazy antics straight into our homes, where our kids can get a load of them.

"It's a pattern," Orenstein says. "They go from being role models, doing things like wearing promise rings, doing charity work, and what's the next step? They take their clothes off or head to rehab. The road to female identity is rocky right now, and these stars are traveling it in a writ-large, public way that reflects, in a smaller way, the dilemmas real girls face."

So how do you keep your little girl from becoming that girl, when the line between good femme fun and scary consumerism is so faint?

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.

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