Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Is your idea of "childhood" in the best interest of your child?

Lucia Reed was only seven when she started her period

Girls entering puberty by the age of six - but are drugs the answer? | the Daily Mail Annotated

Doctors are increasingly worried about the number of girls - and boys - being referred to specialists because of this phenomenon of 'precocious' puberty.

The normal age at which puberty starts in both boys and girls has dropped by about two years since the 19th century, to 14 for boys and 12 for girls. This is largely due to improved nutrition - onset of puberty is believed to be triggered by physical size. Another theory is that the epidemic of obesity is to blame.

But modern social conditions may also be a contributory factor. Research suggests that children from broken homes experience earlier puberty. The stress of family breakdown apparently alters the balance of growth hormones and other chemicals in the body, speeding up a child's physical development.

Absent fathers may be another cause. American researchers have found that biological fathers send out chemical signals that inhibit their daughters' sexual maturity. Girls whose fathers had left home started their periods earlier.

Early puberty has even been linked to watching too much television. A few years ago, Italian scientists found that children who watched three hours a day produced less of the sleep hormone melatonin - low levels of the hormone play an important role in the timing of puberty.

But perhaps more worrying is the theory that it's exposure to environmental chemicals which is causing the drop in the age of puberty. These chemicals mimic the effect of hormones, disrupting the normal timing of sexual maturing.

Whatever the cause, this is another example of reality colliding with our treasured ideas of The Way Things Should Be, and as usual, before admitting defeat - indeed, before even admitting a real conflict exists - every alternative is tried. But when people are actually suggesting that children should be given powerful chemotherapy drugs to suppress puberty and "prolong childhood's innocence," I have to be blunt; that is totally depraved.

This wave of early puberty is troubling and very challenging to parents who are unready to think of their daughters and sons as unavoidably sexual beings. Heck, far too many parents are unable to confront this reality at sixteen, seventeen or even 25. But from an ethical and common sense point of view, such willful stupidity is both irrational and abusive. At some point we have to stop being squeamish and ashamed of perfectly ordinary body functions that, if properly explained, are no more problematic than any others.

I've blogged extensively about sexual ethics, sexual morality, sexuality and of course, one of the most contentious patches of ground in the Culture Wars, Sex Ed.

The reason I do this is simple. Morals are supposed to keep people from doing harm to one another, and to keep them from making obvious and predictable mistakes. Well, I've been aware from before my own puberty that current western shame and guilt-based sexual morality achieved neither goal with any predictablity. Indeed, it seemed to me that the actual function of both Prodestant Shame and Catholic Guilt was, paradoxicly, to encourage sexual sins in order for people to feel ashamed enough or guilty enough to attend otherwise spiritually pointless churches.

Yeah, I was an opinionated little kid. And at 49, that particular opinion has gone from a suspicion to a well-polished working premise. More importantly, as a person on the autistic spectrum, I simply do not perceive the very many unspoken emotional and social cues that allow most people to stay out of trouble most of the time without any actual, solid moral or ethical code.

Not true for me. I need things spelled out for me, and I need to understand why I should do this and avoid that. Well, when you require those explanations - or go looking for them after having very bad experiences with parents who have no better idea than you, and resent having it pointed out, you will find that the actual reasons are often obsolete, based on offensive premises, such as the inability of men to control their "urges" or the ownership of females as chattel property. Being raised as an Episcopalian, I assumed that sexual morality would be clearly explained in the Bible.

Oh, so not true! The more you study about Biblical sexual ethics, the less there is that is relevant to our culture. Most of it turns out to be discussing something else entirely. The "Sin of Sodom" is, quite provably, the sin of refusing proper hospitality to strangers. That was clear to me from the King James at 14. It took a while to find scholars that agreed with my reading, but now it's considered entirely orthodox, at least within moderate and Liberal churches.

However, the problem with finding that your morals and ethics are based on nothing but the prejudices and taboos of your forebears, of no more moral force other than what bigots and fools will do if they catch you is not all that useful. Because amoral behavior WILL lead you into situations you will very much regret, whether or not there IS any moral code that covers the situation. Because of my own mental differences, I need a robust and sensible system of ethics that can be applied to any situation I'm likely to find myself in, no matter how challenging, exceptional or bizarre.

And boy howdy, THIS is exactly such a situation!

Here we have girls and boys becoming sexual FAR before our cultural customs allow for, and no amount of finger-wagging will keep all of them from playing with such urgently swollen toys. It's important to remember that most of our cultural norms about first sexual activity and the age of marriage came when puberty and fertility could be expected to happen a year or so AFTER marriage!

That worked rather well. Unfortunately, this has not been true for centuries, due to all sorts of changes that are at best poorly understood. But the fact that we do not understand why this is happening does not excuse us from dealing sensitively, ethically and humanely with the ever-changing ethical challenges faced by our children in the absence of any useful or relevant guidance.

Our schools are filling up with 9 - to - 11 year olds who are physically capable of making babies but with no informational or social context that views that as anything other than A Fate Worse Than Death That You Must Not Ever Speak About.

This sort of "moral inhibition" does not prevent "sin" - on the contrary, it tends to make the worst possible outcomes more likely, and to artificially inflate those consequences beyond the natural, consequential harm. In other words, western sexual morality is the direct cause of significant, sometimes fatal harm to real people.

I can find no excuse for that and am quite willing to state authoritatively that, all of Paul and Augustine to the contrary, there can be no such excuse. Direct, predicable harm as a result of circumstances that may or may not be truly avoidable is obviously far more of an immediate concern than any theoretical, faith-based consequence imposed by some petulant Sky God.

Any system of morality that requires you to choose between obeying your faith and keeping yourself, your child or indeed, anyone else out of harm's way is, in my studied Autistic and Anglican opinion, a faith you are ethically obligated to reject. And of course, when it requires you sacrifice the children of other people on the altar of ideology and political ambition - well, my ethics tell me that you have willfully become too dangerously insane to tolerate within the boundaries of civilization. As for your faith - well, as a thinking person with deep roots in Christan thought and scripture - my thought would be that, willingly or ignorantly, your faith is placed on that OTHER guy.

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