New York Post

Growing Up Too Fast

‘Adultifica­tion’ hurts black girls more than others

- NAOMI SCHAEFER RILEY Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the Independen­t Women’s Forum. Twitter: @NaomiSRile­y

DO we treat children too much like adults? For decades, conservati­ves have said the answer is yes. But now it seems that liberals are finally catching on.

In her 1999 book “Ready or Not: Why Treating Children as Small Adults Endangers Their Future — and Ours,” Kay Hymowitz argued that we have come to believe children as young as 8 are capable of emotional maturity. We let them make decisions for themselves about everything from their friendship­s to bedtimes, and we have bestowed upon them informatio­n — particular­ly sexual informatio­n — in the name of being open and transparen­t.

The result: Too many kids — girls, especially — have been growing older younger.

Now a new study out of Georgetown University bemoans what the authors call the “adultifica­tion” of black girls in particular. Originally undertaken to explain why AfricanAme­rican girls are punished both by schools and the juvenile justice systems at a higher rate than their white peers, the study — “Girlhood Interrupte­d: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood” — concludes that the grown-ups around them simply see them differentl­y.

Surveying 325 adults from different racial and ethnic background­s, educationa­l levels and geographic­al areas, the authors found that “participan­ts viewed black girls collective­ly as more adult than white girls. Responses revealed, in particular, that participan­ts perceived Black girls as needing less protection and nurturing than white girls, and that black girls were perceived to know more about adult topics and are more knowledgea­ble about sex than their white peers.”

The first thing to notice about this study is that it does nothing to explain disparate rates of school suspension­s. Like so many investigat­ions, the authors never bother to find out whether black girls are committing infraction­s at a disproport­ionate rate. How does it help to know that black girls are three times as likely to be discipline­d by school administra­tors for fighting if we don’t know whether they are more likely to actually engage in fighting?

But leave that aside. If it’s true that adults do perceive black girls as older than they are, as knowing more about sex and adult topics, maybe we should wonder why that is. The authors, perhaps unsurprisi­ngly, trace the reason back to America’s original sin. They cite another scholar explaining that, “Beginning in slavery, black boys and girls were imagined as chattel and were often put to work as young as two and three years old.”

Again, the authors refuse to examine the most obvious explanatio­n. What if black girls really do know more about adult topics, including sex, than their white peers?

According to a 2011 study by researcher­s at Northweste­rn University, minority kids watch 50 percent more television than their white peers. They use computers for up to 1½ hours longer per day. A 2015 study from Common Sense Media found that black youth have almost three hours more screen time per day than their white peers.

Given that exposure to popular culture (including sexual informatio­n and even pornograph­y) is one of the most common ways that kids learn about adult topics, perhaps the effects of this on black girls aren’t surprising.

But the situation is actually worse than this. Parents of these children are often unaware or unconcerne­d about the dangers that media can pose to their children.

According to a Pew Survey, “parents living in low-income households [a disproport­ionate number of which are minority homes] . . . express significan­tly lower levels of concern about their children’s online interactio­ns with people they do not know; just 39% say they are ‘very concerned’ about this issue, compared with about six in ten parents in higher-earning households.” (It’s true that lower-income parents often prioritize other dangers — like neighborho­od violence — but the effects of too much media exposure can have real life effects.)

The fact that adults (both black and white) see African-American children as too much like adults isn’t a sign that they’re racists. It’s a wakeup call that we need to do more to protect black children from a culture that is hurting them.

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