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MANY CHILDREN TODAY ARE GROWING UP TOO FAST

Are kids today acting older? How is it that I, a 20-year-old college student, can have a mature conversation with my 10-year-old cousin?

Don't get me wrong. I love my cousin, and I think it's great that we can hang out and go shopping together. But I find it a bit strange that with a 10-year age difference between us, we can have so many things in common, and share the same taste in clothing.

This is not just happening to my cousin. The girls I see her with all seem to act very mature as well, and if you take a good look around the malls you'll notice what I'm talking about. All these cool-looking, stylish and trendy women, who are just very, very short.

They may dress, talk and act old, but looks can be deceiving. This past Christmas, for example, while sitting in my cousin's ultra-hip, decorated bedroom, and looking at all the posters of "cool" celebrities on her wall, I saw in her a glimmer of childlike innocence. She asked me if Santa Claus was real.

I was taken aback after hearing this question coming from the same girl who, just five minutes earlier, had asked me if she should get a pink or black Juicy Couture outfit. How can someone be confused about what designer clothes to buy and the existence of Santa Claus, all at the same time?

I know my cousin was raised by great parents. So what else could have caused this 10-year-old -- and so many other little girls -- to dress like a 20-year-old? I have to believe that media and marketing have something to do with it.

My cousin has posters on her wall of people like Ashlee Simpson and Hillary Duff. If she looks up to them enough to plaster their cute little faces and belly button-exposing outfits on her wall, how are we to expect that she wouldn't want to look like that herself?

Today's music also plays a large role in this. It was a bit disturbing one day to hear my cousin singing along, verbatim, to the words of the recently deceased O.D.B. (Ol' Dirty Bastard). Here's a little sample: "Hey, dirty baby, I got your money, don't you worry. I said hey, baby, I got your money." The lyrics, I'm sorry to say, are not about milk money.

I've been around for 20 years, and for the past seven I have been baby sitting for my cousin. In doing this, I have also watched numerous children's television programs, and compared them to what I used to watch when I was younger. Now I'm not going back to the "Leave It to Beaver" days, but I watched shows that were somewhat more innocent.

When I was younger I used to watch "Rugrats." Today my cousin watches "Rugrats -- All Growed Up." It's scary how everything has to be made more mature for today's kids. I miss the days when it was fun to play outside all day, without having any idea of what a celebrity was.

Looking back, and seeing children today, I know that the real-deal "cool" thing is to just act your age. I know I grew up that way, and I can only hope that I will be able to raise my children in an environment where it is OK for a 10-year-old to act like a 10-year-old.

Katie Stubbe is a student at Niagara University.