There is a cultural phenomenon going on that has disturbing long-term consequences. This article describes the disappearing window of childhood innocence in young people - especially in girls.
Teaching 6th, 7th, and 8th grade kids, I have to agree with the article. Thanks to cable TV, the internet, absentee parenthood (whether caused by two working parents or divorce), and peer pressure, children feel the need to engage in "adult" (though not necessarily "mature") behavior at increasingly younger ages - things like smoking, drinking, sexuality, exposure to mature themes in media, crass vulgarity, piercings, and tattoos. They are being manipulated and encouraged by advertizing experts who see these children as nothing more than a potential market.
I find that either parents 1) are too disconnected to even know what their children are doing, or 2) approve of, and even assist, in the behavior!
The results are disastrous.
Of course, there are the obvious physical manifestations: promiscuity, an increase in the percentage of teenage pregnancy (which may even lead to abortion), drug use, drinking, smoking, the spread of disease, or even suicide. But there are also other, perhaps more subtle consequences: guilt, lack of courage, materialism, bullying, emotional problems, lack of discipline, difficulties in relating to people of the opposite sex, distorted family relationships, and even involvement in the occult.
Though I'm not exactly sure why, my intuition tells me this is more destructive to the feminine psyche than it is hurtful to boys (though it isn't healthy for them either). And when the feminine in a culture is destroyed or watered down, there is no longer the social force to civilize the testosterone-laced boys and men. When mothers are no longer feminine and can no longer teach their sons how to relate to women, woe to the next generation! And when parents teach and encourage their daughters to appear and conduct themselves as sexual objects, one wonders how they will ever regain their dignity (how can the salt be made salty again?).
Of course, not all parents raise their children this way, and there are a lot of kids out there who are content not to push the envelope. But there is definitely a cultural pressure on parents and children to move away from traditional boundaries.
The irony is that in ages past, children had to grow up more quickly than in today's culture. They moved from childhood right into adulthood without the luxury of being teenagers (think of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or numerous examples from our own family histories of great-grandparents who responded heroically to hardship). However, that kind of maturity was true maturity - becoming an adult by being forced into responsibility by hardships forged of necessity (war, poverty, family obligations, etc.). What we have today is actually a lack of maturity - displayed by parents and children alike - an indulgence in childish conduct that masquerades as "adult" behavior - brought about by such things as wealth, greed, disdain for family and social obligations, lack of proper role models, etc.
Being a junior high student and getting one's belly-button pierced, using MySpace to engage in sex talk, and sneaking into R-rated movies are not hallmarks of maturity (though that is the overwhelming perception among young people). A pre-teen might say something like: "I'm a very mature person because I smoke cigarettes with my mom and use the f-word." Ironically, a junior high kid who is content to play pickup basketball and ride a bike around the neighborhood may be the most mature of all.
I foresee a lost generation of children of gen-x-ers who were themselves raised as guinea pigs by their baby-boomer parents. These children aren't the hippies who rebelled against tradition, but rather these kids have no clue what the very concept of tradition is. They are being pushed into a Lord of the Flies existence of savagery and short-term self-indulgence. And before long, they will become parents themselves.
Pray for this generation!