I hadn’t heard anything about the Amber Cole debacle until my daughter slid into the car after school on Tuesday afternoon. “Mommy, you heard about Amber Cole?” she asked casually, noshing on a granola bar real casual-like. The way she was acting, I thought the girl was somebody I should know personally, a kid in her class maybe. Then I found out why she thought I should’ve already heard about her.

I haven’t seen the actual video of the child in action. I really don’t want or need to. I’ve known enough Amber Coles in my lifetime, and everybody who’s good and grown can piece together what happens when you get that one girl who doesn’t think very highly of herself alone in a compromising position with a horny guy. It’s been happening for longer than you or I have been around, that’s for sure. Only difference now is it can be recorded, searched and shared with just a few mouse clicks.

Fallout from the uncut footage has dropped hard and fast on not only Amber herself, it’s unleashed a firing squad of finger-pointing at her parents, as well. They’re not doing their job. Their daughter has no values. They should’ve been teaching her better. That’s a whole heap of accusation targeted at two people most of us wouldn’t know if they walked past us. I don’t know how Amber’s parents are operating their household or what kind of morals they are—or are not—raising her with. But I do know that it’s very possible for girls who come from solid homes to get caught doing really stupid things.

We like to think we know what our children are capable of doing, and it never stretches beyond that little mental comfort zone, the one that reassures us that our kids hear our whispered voices whenever they’re confronted with the opportunity to do wrong. Of course Ronnie wouldn’t steal. You taught him better than to be a thief. Of course Keisha wouldn’t jump another girl with her friends. You raised her to be kind. Of course Mikey wouldn’t pop a pill. You’ve lectured about drugs a gazillion times. We can’t get lulled into a false set of beliefs that our children aren’t susceptible to making certain mistakes. Tuck that “not my child” attitude away. Peer pressure is a beast and, coupled with other conditions that may not be as obvious, like low self-esteem and lagging self-confidence and fear of not being cool, it can spill over into combustible situations. Even with all of our positive reinforcement at home, even with all of our surrounding them with inspirational influences, they can still fall short.

A few months ago, I got a feeling like I needed to check up on my daughter. So I seized her netbook, no provocation at all. She was caught off guard and was hot on my heels as I walked back to my room, ready to comb through the contents of her online activity. Turns out, she was having conversations with 17 and 18-year-old boys on Twitter. My child is only two weeks in 13. To make matters worse, during one string of messages, she told one boy what size bra she wears and giggly accepted compliments from another about how hot her body is. Needless to say, she didn’t tweet, Facebook or Skype for a mighty long time.

I know I taught her to respect and value herself beyond her boobs, booty and what’s between her legs. I’ve hauled her tail to church every Sunday and involved her in activities that would empower her as a young woman, not a piece of flesh. But the root of the problem for her, just like it is for Amber, is believing that. I’ve noticed that young women in general—and alas, not just teenagers—have a gross lack of respect for themselves. There’s almost a desperation for attention from the opposite sex and a willingness to one-up the next girl in an effort to snag a guy. The competition plays itself out in how much flesh they can expose, how suggestively they can walk, talk and dance, and yes, how far they’re willing to go to hand out sexual favors and do them well, at that.

I know I’m setting a better example for my child than that and I’m hoping Amber’s mother is, too. But we just have to keep out ears open, our heads out of the clouds and stay vigilant in teaching that the way to win a man’s heart is not through his zipper. That means we shouldn’t lean back on our holier-than-thou high horses and ridicule people dealing with it when those people could very well be just like us.

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