Colleen Carroll Campbell

When Paris Hilton was sentenced to jail last week for violating her probation, the hard-partying heiress won yet another 15 minutes of fame guaranteed to captivate her young admirers. Like party pals Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Nicole Richie, Paris has parlayed poor judgment and vulgar exhibitionism into idol status among America’s teen and pre-teen set.

Girls as young as five moan Britney’s racy lyrics, while their sisters in elementary and middle school copy Nicole’s compulsive dieting, Lindsay’s brazen flashing, and Paris’ sultry stare. Young women are now groomed from girlhood to arouse sexual attention by posting suggestive messages on their personal web pages and wearing the same risqué fashions as their Bratz dolls. Newsweek recently chronicled the rise of these “prosti-tots” – girls as young as seven “who dress like tarts” and dream of breast implants as high-school graduation gift.

Aspiring young exhibitionists can find role models everywhere these days, from the coeds who disrobe for “Girls Gone Wild” camera crews and publish pornographic pictures of themselves in student-run magazines, to mothers who take pole-dancing classes and wear the same see-through blouses and skin-tight jeans as their teenage daughters.

Today’s pop culture tells women that sexual power is the kind that counts most and they can achieve it by showing skin. That message has trickled down to girls, forcing them to trade carefree childhood pleasures for sexual competition.

You can see them in the mall, tugging nervously at their skimpy shorts and halter tops, straining to see how men react to their little bellies flouncing out of low-slung jeans. They look more exploited than empowered as they fuss and cringe, adjust and squirm. How odd that in an age when girls have more athletic and academic opportunities than ever, girlhood has become a high-pressure dress-rehearsal for adult mating games.

The American Psychological Association recently issued an alarming report on this trend, concluding that girls who view themselves as sex objects are more prone to academic failure, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and poor self-image.

Colleen Carroll Campbell

Colleen Carroll Campbell is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a former speechwriter to George W. Bush, and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola, 2002). She is a frequent commentator on such networks as FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, and PBS, and she hosts her own television show, “Faith & Culture,” on EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network.

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