The New Prudery

Parents fret, but not about the real danger

The Wall Street Journal

December 3, 2011

ONLY ONE-THIRD of eligible young girls have gotten the HPV vaccine.

“You look exactly like you!” She hadn’t seen me since we were 14, this friend from Hong Kong, and she was right. I look exactly the same, just without the argyle socks. Yup, at boarding school in the ’80s, I used to wear woolly argyles, paired with a knee-length corduroy skirt. I swear I wasn’t the only one.

And that’s the definition of girlhood, isn’t it? The Argyle Moment, when it’s still about being warm—not hot.

Now that moment ends even sooner. Not at 15 or 16 but at 12, even 11. We’d like to think that the problem is kids growing up too fast, but it’s also adults growing up too slowly.

Listen to us whine about the supposed threats to children. Like dancing. “Freaking,” the grinding done by preteens today, is pretty similar, I’m sure, to the stuff Neanderthal young folk did 30,000 years ago. Only with mini-er skirts and more Axe body spray.

Many fret about that, instead of protecting children against actual danger. Only a third of eligible young girls have been vaccinated against human papilloma virus, for instance. It’s the virus responsible for most cervical cancers, among other ills.

This is the new prudery.

We talk knowingly about the next generation having to tackle obvious technological shifts: Facebook’s terms of service officially disallow users under 13, but, according to Consumer Reports, 7.5 million users are younger than 13, five million are 10 and under, and the majority of their accounts are unsupervised.

Some of the most salient shifts, though, are physical. Record numbers of 7-year-old girls and 8-year-old boys are hitting puberty. The average age for the onset of anorexia has gone from between 13 and 17 to between 9 and 12.

Many adults, however well-meaning, are actually adding to young people’s physical challenges. Look again at the HPV vaccine. Among the privileged, it’s now almost mandatory. But other folks still let their kids skip it.

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