Are Girls Growing Up Too Fast?

Girls are in danger.

That's the chief message of tonight's PBS special, A Girl's Life with Rachel Simmons (8 PM ET), a documentary that follows the lives of four American girls between ages 12 and 18.

Well, as a mom of two daughters, I'm thrilled to learn about some new, unknown source of peril awaiting my sweet preschoolers. There's something besides global warming and nuclear proliferation to menace their future? Lovely. Consider me tuned in.

Simmons theorizes that girls today are being hit with a barrage of adult-oriented messages (from both the media and their peers), and that they're getting it five years earlier than previous generations did.

"Imagine that you're a girl growing up in America today," she says in the opening voiceover. "You're negotiating the mine fields of middle and high school. You've got a woman's body but often a little girl's emotions…and you're bombarded by media images telling you how to look and act." Meanwhile, we viewers are treated to a clip of Lady Gaga and two gal pals (in black fishnets), having some very steamy, three-way sex. Ick.

Of course, this isn't exactly new information. Nobody was safe from Lady Gaga this year. But Simmons did pique my interest with the "little girl in a woman's body" remark. Are girls physically developing earlier these days? Are they curvier, earlier?

It turns out, after a little Web research, that the answer is an inconclusive 'yes.' The age of puberty in girls has fallen from 11 to 10 in the past two decades, according to one news report last summer. And the report offered two possible explanations: "some scientists theorize chemicals in household cleaners and pesticides mimic estrogen, throwing girls into early puberty. Others believe growth hormones in milk and meats are responsible." Again, ick.

But there are other reasons why a girl might develop breasts early. According to an article in Delicious Living Magazine, it might not be earlier puberty that's making girls chesty. It's earlier weight gain. Given the rising rates of obesity in this country, it's only natural that more girls would seemingly grow breasts sooner. "Body fat tends to be deposited in the area of the breast, so it's sometimes difficult to tell if it's breast tissue or fat tissue," said Ora Pescovitz, MD, director of the pediatric endocrinology division at Indiana University School of Medicine and former president of the Society for Pediatric Research.

Whatever the cause, developing early might compel a girl to deal with her sexuality before she's mentally ready. That's not Lady Gaga's fault. But she isn't helping the situation, either.

Are girls growing up too fast? Chime in below!

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