I was sheltered as a kid – too sheltered. I had no idea what was going on in the world or how to deal with it until I was 19 and left my parents’ house, and then I had to learn in a hurry. I don’t want that for my kids. They need to have the tools for success in the world, and one of those tools is knowing what they’ll be dealing with. But there is a balance to be sought here. Last night, an article showed up in my inbox about when to take your daughter to see an obgyn. The article is from a popular online forum for moms, and draws from conversations women have had about the appropriate age for a first ob appointment.

Although I continue to be somewhat isolated from teen culture since I’m now 31, and my eldest child is 9, I thought I had a decent grasp of the national sex culture. As I sat in my kitchen, nursing my baby girl and reading comment after comment by women who assumed their 13-year-olds were sexually active or about to become so, I felt like a bomb had gone off in my chest.

If you knew there was a distinct possibility your child was driving home from school every day having consumed a six pack just before getting behind the wheel, would you take drastic measures to bring that behavior to a halt, or would you pack a thermos of coffee in her lunchbox hoping she’d sober up a bit before driving? I’d like to know why our society doesn’t recognize that teenage sex is as damaging as teenage drunk driving. Maybe I’m just a sap or a hopeless romantic, but sex has serious emotional implications for me. I’m trying to imagine my 13-year-old self, or even my 16-year-old self ducking into a closet at school and getting it on with a teenage boy who is so horny he can’t see straight and has nothing more profound or permanent than the state of his penis on his mind, and coming out of that closet a confident young girl with a strong sense of self-worth and my dreams intact. What is the likelihood that these kids are going on to have healthy, meaningful and satisfying relationships as they get older?

Why is this happening? What has changed so drastically in our culture that parents either don’t recognize or don’t care about the emotional and mental health of their children? I walk into the toys on wheels section of WalMart and I can barely find the bikes for all the helmets and pads and other safety equipment that’s on prominent display. I keep reading about parents getting hassled by local police for letting their kids play outside. Our First Lady has become the most annoying Health Food Nazi in Chief this nation has ever seen. There’s a War on Poverty, a Battle Against the Bulge, a War on Drugs and a Campaign to End Bullying. Why does no one care that our children are being thrust into the most intimate and significant moments of their lives before they even know who they are, let alone who they want to love?

I’ve been disturbed for several years now by the sexualization of children. Barbies give me the creeps, as do Bratz and the other super-sexy, big boobed, ridiculously made up, outrageously dressed plastic dolls that are marketed to little girls – and I mean little girls. As soon as my daughters can talk, they’re asking for a Barbie. Even the ubiquitous Disney Princesses have noticeably curvy figures and are often depicted with cleavage. And while I find chubby toddler limbs as adorable as the next mommy, what is the deal with the racy clothes on the little girl racks? How much skin does a 6-year-old really need to show, and why are so many of these clothes designed to emphasize non-existent boobs and butts? I’ve tried to hope that these trends are just a coincidence and completely divorced from actual sexual activity or knowledge. But is it very likely that these sexually active 13-year-olds went from 0 to 60 in a year? It stands to reason that if a 13-year-old is doing it, a 9-year-old is pretty well versed in the technicalities, and is wearing those clothes for a reason. So now when I see those size 8 miniskirts on the rack I don’t have to wonder what moms are thinking when they dress their girls to attract those looks.

I’m not advocating that parents refuse to give their kids access to education or birth control. If you’re going to train your preschoolers to think that pretty and sexy are the same thing, to want breasts and clothes that show them off, if you’re going to encourage your elementary school children to show off their butts with heels and tight clothes, and by all means, if you know most of the kids in your daughter’s seventh grade class are having sex with each other, and you’re going to keep sending her to that school, please get her to an obgyn! Get her sterilized while you’re at it. Teach her how to put a condom on her boyfriend and get her the hpv vaccine, because she’s going to need it. And I would forget about that college fund and put a psychiatrist on retainer.

Or perhaps a more logical and compassionate approach would be to do whatever it freaking takes to get your precious child out of that situation. Then again, that would require parents to do things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable, and apparently that’s too much to expect anymore.

And if you want a nice case of indigestion, here’s that article.