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What Happened to the Age of Innocence?

July 10, 2013 By:
Susan Jaffe
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Whatever happened to preteen girls? I know they are not extinct, but no one looks 12 anymore. You are either a toddler or a 6-year- old, and then you become a teen overnight.

Innocence appears to be out of style by the time a girl is 7 or 8. Also gone like the dinosaurs are the bunny hop and face painting. There was a time when you could have a bunny complete with whiskers painted on your face or a dragon in green or purple. Today when you drop an eight-year-old off at a party, she is more likely to come home with her hair done, her nails painted and makeup applied to her face. I assume that tanning and waxing parties are a few years off.

You can find websites that advertise “glam” parties. One event includes a hair bar with glitter hairspray, real makeup, nail polish, feather boas and elaborate jewelry.  Child-sized tables and chairs with real linen tablecloths are part of the package. Pin the tail on the donkey has morphed into pin the crown on the princess. Yes, they even advertise gift bags to take home, and I can’t imagine that the girls take home jacks or coloring books and crayons.

Fast forward a few years.

I recently heard about a young woman who wore a bustier to her Bat Mitzvah service. At the party afterwards, she changed into a strapless long gown and high heels. All of her classmates were in similar attire. A mom can buy high fashion jeans or designer party dresses made of tulle, chiffon, or gold sequins, not for herself, but for her 7-year-old daughter. So what is a 13-year-old girl to do for her special day, and I don’t mean her wedding. Nor do I have to wonder what she will be wearing in 15 years, because I see young women going to work in inappropriate attire every day. Last week I watched a woman dressed in a very short leather skirt and tight shiny blouse walk into an office building. A fashion handbag and strappy high heels completed the outfit. She looked ridiculous at 30-something.

We know who pays the bills, but who is calling the shots? Perhaps it is peer pressure. Young girls see ads on TV, the Internet and in store windows. Malls are a gathering place.  Advertisers know how to package the “look” of the moment. TV and singing stars look like they came from another planet wearing bizarre outfits and outrageous wigs and makeup.

But where do the parents come in? Are they afraid their youngster might be bullied for wearing age-appropriate clothes? Do they want to impress their own friends? Are they afraid of their kids?

And more importantly: Why not use the situation as a learning opportunity?  There is a lot to teach about sex, self-confidence, responsibility, self-worth and age-appropriate attire.

Parents are missing crucial opportunities to have an impact on their daughters’ lives, and we are living with the results.

Susan Jaffe, a past board member of the Jewish Publishing Group, served for 14 years as a board member and then chair of the Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment. She currently freelances for several publications.

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