Pre-adolescent girls show teen troubles

Appearance, romance become concerns at 8-12

September 16, 2000|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Too many little girls are taking on big-girl worries, says a new study by the Girl Scouts of the USA.

An increasing number of girls 8 to 12 worry about their popularity and their appearance, the study said. They dress and act like teen-agers. Some are even dating.

As a result, teen angst has descended upon the elementary school playground.

Girls who might still believe in the tooth fairy fret that they might never get a boyfriend or be accepted by the cool clique at school. Girls too young to spell bulimia are worried about their weight.

"Girls Speak Out: Teens Before Their Time," released this week, was based on conversations and surveys involving 214 girls ages 8 to 12 in seven cities, and on Internet surveys with more than 1,000 other girls in the same age range.

The study is the first produced by the new Girl Scout Research Institute. Girls 8 to 12 are seemingly caught in an "age compression" caused by a society that forces children to grow up too fast and a pop culture obsessed with sexuality.

Some of the survey's findings:

In the third grade, 75 percent of girls liked the way they looked. But by the seventh grade, that number dropped to 56 percent.

"Being Britney Spears would be nice because you could wear a bikini without a big, fat tummy sticking out all over the place," one third-grade girl told researchers.

Among girls 10 to 12, nearly a fourth thought that 12 or 13 was an appropriate age for a person's first romantic relationship.

"Go into her elementary school and you'd swear you were in a high school," Stephanie Gromling said of her daughter's fifth-and-sixth-grade school in Belton, Kan.

Her 11-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, said she isn't allowed to wear makeup or buy skimpy clothing, but many girls in her school do.

"Some are already dating and stuff," she said.

Seventy-three percent of girls 8 to 12 appear to have strong ties to their families. But many girls said their parents were unwilling to talk about sex and boys if they thought the girl was too young to be asking the questions.

"Girls are begging for the adults in their lives to listen to them," said Ellen Christie, national spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts.

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