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WHAT HAS GONE WRONG WITH OUR GIRLS?

I am a father who lost a daughter. She made choice after disastrous choice until she piled up a mountain of consequences that threatens to crush her. And I don't know that she will be OK.

I've tried every approach you can imagine and some you can't, three times each, at a minimum. But I still don't know that she'll be OK.

I see her mirrored everywhere, in the girls of my friends, my colleagues, my family, girls of all cultural and economic backgrounds. Girls in trouble. And it is a picture without sound. No one's talking about it.

Boys get all the ink -- black boys in particular. But I know more parents troubled by their girls than by their boys. I'm talking serious trouble -- robbery, shoplifting, drugs.

I am also, of course, talking about babies. Consider recent headlines. Just the other day came reports of a 16-year-old who gave birth on a toilet in an Atlantic City bus terminal and left her baby in it. He was hospitalized in critical condition. This follows the girl from Ocean County, N.J., who was arrested on murder charges after giving birth in the bathroom at her high-school prom. And yet another girl, from Bucks County, Pa., is said to have stashed her baby in a gym bag in her garage. That baby died.

Makes you want to scream. Makes you want to weep.

Makes you wonder, what has gone wrong with our girls? I once asked a policeman about it, asked him if I was just imagining things. He said no. And he said this: Out of 10 runaways he was chasing at that time, nine were teen-age girls. Girls run away a lot, so many girls trying to escape their own lives.

I spoke with a psychologist and he, too, said girls are a special problem. Many, he said, live by wishes, making major decisions on the basis of what they want to be true rather than what really is. They behave as if consequences deferred are consequences escaped; their choices are not informed by anything we would recognize as logic or even self-preservation. And many, said the doctor, suffer an acute lack of self-esteem.

It was one of the few times that most ubiquitous of '90s cliches has ever meant anything to me. I've known too many girls who were unable to be complete within themselves, who needed the validation of a boy -- any boy -- more desperately than a boy would ever need them.

Maybe you remember the news story about one girl slashing another with a razor in a fight over a boy. But when's the last time you heard about one boy maiming another while fighting about a girl?

If many girls value themselves little, many boys, I think, value them even less. So who can be surprised that we see girls behaving in ways characteristic of those who don't care what becomes of them?

And our silence is loud.

Don't bother advising me -- or any other parent who has walked this vale of sorrows. We have spent years on the front lines of an undeclared war. There is nothing you can tell us.

Besides, what has to happen now won't happen in our homes. It won't happen until pop culture, mass media, concerned citizens and the sleeping giant of feminism find a way to renew the dialogue on the nurturing of our daughters and the special pressures they face. Until we make it a priority to instill in them the knowledge that they have worth that is unconnected to their beauty or some boy's approval.

We can and must lead them to aspire, can and must create an environment that shelters their largest dreams, can and must push, lift, encourage them to reach.

Can.

And must.

Because the alternative is unthinkable.

You see, I have another daughter. She is 6 years old. And growing.

Miami Herald

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