Why unlucky thirteen is the danger age for girls
When my 12 year old daughter finished year six, we had an end of primary school disco party on our apartment building’s rooftop. They danced and giggled; my main concern was if there was enough food.
That party would also be a farewell to innocence. Within six months, she’d been invited to a 13 year old’s harbour boat party with the invite warning: “No alcohol. Bags will be searched.” She’d feel the peer pressure to have sex. And she’d smoke and drink.
In an article in The Daily Telegraph on the weekend, parenting expert Steve Biddulph argued that 14 is the new 18, and girls are under unprecedented pressure.
He’s right about the latter. But 14? Try 13, or even 12, a sexualised culture complicated by early puberty which makes many girls look 18. A friend summed up the situation for me. “It’s like having L plates on a Ferrari. “They don’t know what they are driving.”
I became the fashion police. We had screaming fights about midriffs. I told her smoking causes pimples. I gave men who looked at her death stares. As a single parent, with her father largely absent, I felt very alone and responsible.
The hardest thing though, as Biddulph says, is definitely the sexual pressure. He warns that one in three girls will have had three or more partners by age of 17 and when 14 year old girls have sex, it’s “like homework.”
Fortunately we talked a lot, which Biddulph says works. She asked me openly about sex.
“The age of consent is 16,” I told her. “It’s illegal before then.” My daughter’s 16 year old, grounded cousin was more effective. “Don’t be a cradle,” she said, referring to the brutal nickname older boys had given to 13 year old girls who had underage sex. The message got through.
As the sexual pressure built around her to confusing levels, she lost her newfound confidence and became a child again. She turned to me, to her teenage cousins and horse riding. She started lessons at Centennial Park equestrian centre.
It was expensive but grounding for her. Most importantly of all, she reached out to her absent father and, realising she needed his love and protection more than ever, he embraced her into his new life.
She’s just turned 14 – Steve Biddulph’s “danger age”. She’s a walking Dolly magazine. She’s regained her confidence. She experiments with eyeliner but has lost interest in midriffs. She feels protected, even if she resists it occasionally. She wouldn’t be a teenager if she didn’t.
Fortunately, she’s nearly as tall as her father, and her dad calls any adoring boy a hobbit to her elfin beauty. She calls them sprouts – boys who will be dating potential later. If she’s a Ferrari, she still has her learner plates on, but at least she’s found the brake as well as the accelerator.
When mothers with girls approaching puberty, I’m direct. ‘It starts earlier,” I said. “But I’ve been told because they are through the worst of it by 15 or 16, they are much easier when they are older.” No wonder girls are doing so well academically in their HSC. Their “wild child” days are ancient teen history.
In another positive development for our daughters, I’ve also noticed that the pole dancing as empowerment “raunch culture” that seems so entwined with sexualisation of young girls, is now being questioned by feminists, most recently Living Dolls by Natasha Walter.
However, the culture is still here and as Puberty Blues fictionalised, it always has, albeit now 13 fold, and all over Facebook.
For now, Biddulph is a year too late. The danger age is 13. By 14 it can be out of control – yours not hers.
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