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Miriam Donohoe: How do we stop our little girls from wanting to grow up so quickly?

Michaela was just a little girl. She was only 12. She loved chocolate and animals. And yesterday she lay in a small , white coffin in her local church, a little girl who had, like so many little girls in our society today, just wanted to grow up too fast.

In his heartrending homily at Michaela's funeral, Fr John Daly said: "Michaela was eager to grow up -- too eager at times."

Yet little Michaela still had some innocent childhood to live out. And she had years and years of womanhood to look forward to.

As a mother, one would have liked to say to her, "Take your time, let nature and life take its natural course."

But Michaela was no different to many little girls. She was in too big a hurry to grow up.

What is it with little girls?

It seems as soon as they can walk they want to look older, to be sophisticated, to be like "the big girls" they see all around them.

When they are six they want to be seven, when they are seven they want to be nine, when they are nine they are counting down the years and months to when they turn into a teenager.

Little girls get so excited when their bodies begin to develop. And it is a fact that girls develop earlier now than in previous generations, largely due to diet.



PLEADING

Then there's the begging and pleading with mothers to be allowed to buy a bra, even when there is nothing to fill it.

Pressure, pressure, pressure.

Father Daly said in his homily: "Our children are pushed and forced to grow up much quicker than we ever had to, to contend with things at a much earlier age than we ever did."

Remember back in April Penney's ran into a storm for selling padded bikini tops for children as young as seven. The company was criticised for sexualising young girls and came under fire from parents, children's charities and politicians.

They eventually apologised to customers and took the bras off shelves and agreed to donate any profits to child welfare organisations.

But in fairness, Penney's can't be blamed for pushing bras on kids. It was responding to customer demand.

Fr Daly could have been talking about thousands of Michaela's everywhere.

He spoke about how our children today are pushed and forced to grow up much quicker than we ever had to.

"They contend with things at a much earlier age than we ever did." he said. "And more than ever we need to protect the child, more than ever we need to provide the right environment to help them flourish and to fulfil their dreams."

The big challenge facing parents is what to do to keep their little girls innocent and, most importantly, safe.

It is a constant struggle for all parents. They do their best for their children.

But they are battling against society and in many ways forces that are out of their control.

They are up against pop stars, explicit lyrics and videos. There is the constant peer pressure to be more mature and worldly than they are.

The first disco is more about the way they dress than the place they are going.

Unfortunately, tragic events like this happen in a lot of modern societies and thankfully they are not common and don't lead to such devastation.

But it is important at times like this to stop and think about what Ireland has become in 2010 as a result of the undreamt-of wealth we enjoyed during the Celtic Tiger years.

It is probably too much to expect that Michaela's death will change attitudes toward young girls' behaviour.



ADULTS

But Fr Daly's words are a reminder that we all have a responsibility to try and ensure that children don't become adults too quickly and are properly protected from the sort of influences that could lead down a very dangerous road.

Michaela was eager to grow up, far too eager at times. And in this she was like thousands of other girls in Ireland.


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