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Is My Baby Being Corrupted?

Most of us remember at least one moment from childhood when we were “corrupted” by an older girl.

I have many, all of which are crystal-clear in memory: There was the time, when I was 10, that my best friend’s older sister first played for me Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes,” while miming a strip tease (lyrics: Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?); the time my babysitter typed out every swear word imaginable on the Speak-n-Spell; the time my neighbor’s older cousin escorted me to an R-rated movie I’d been forbidden to see.

Childhood is so fleeting (especially little girlhood), and isn’t it my job as a parent to keep her in it for as long as possible?

Do I shudder now, thinking of these times? Do I think, “How dreadful that happened to me, at such a young age!”?

Hells no. I think—and thought, for many years—that was awesome. Not a scary moment, not confusing, not upsetting, just totally awesome. It was the day I got a taste of independence, that I got to experience a world out there apart from the one I’d been shown by my parents, and it was thrilling. I don’t consider those older girls mean-spirited, or bad seeds, or even terrible influences.

So why do I now, as a mother, go on high-alert when my daughter is exposed to big-kid stuff?

Because I want to keep her young, for one thing, and that desire is mostly about me. I also don’t want her to feel alone, or pressured, or full of confused feelings about herself or the world. And of course I don’t want her to leave all the innocent stuff behind—nursery rhymes and big hair bows and Mary Jane shoes—before she’s ready. Childhood is so fleeting (especially little girlhood), and isn’t it my job as a parent to keep her in it for as long as possible?

Yes, and no. This summer I discovered a loophole that put my mind at ease: the Cousin Caveat. This is when a cousin, or older sibling, or any relative for that matter, does the corrupting. It makes it a little better for me. My 7-year-old daughter spent most of July with my niece, who is 10. They listened to Top 40 music, gave each other makeovers, read Tiger Beat magazine, and talked about their favorite member of One Direction.

All normal for a soon-to-be middle schooler, but for a 2nd grade baby? At first, it seemed a little too-much-too-soon, especially when that baby is in the backseat of your car belting out the lyrics, “Hot night wind was blowin’/Ripped jeans, skin was showin',” reading about how “kissable” lead singer Harry Styles is, and watching TV shows where girls get tarted up to compete for boys at the school dance. Shouldn’t my 7-year-old still be throwing on a cotton frock, shaking out her bowl cut, and running outside to climb trees and catch frogs?

Many mothers would say that’s pure fantasy. And even as I observe my daughter succumbing to sexualization before my very eyes, I also catch another transformation through my rear view mirror: That of two girls’ faces breaking into smiles as the latest hit song begins to play on the radio. As they start singing along, I’m not even listening to the lyrics. Instead, I turn from a protective attack mom into a beaming, sentimental auntie.

The Cousin Caveat definitely takes the sting out of large doses of crass commercialism or tweener activity. As does, for that matter, anyone close to home. The occasional sparkly nail polish or dumb TV show never killed anyone. Maybe, when you’re exposed to that stuff in a safe, nurturing environment, it makes you stronger.

Didn’t Kelly Clarkson teach me that?

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