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Life in the Fast Lane Shouldn’t Start at 11

Girls grow up fast. They’re a force of nature not easily stopped. They spend a lot of time unattended. Their parents can’t watch them every second. Internet or telephone chat rooms are difficult to monitor. You can’t be sure who’s on the other end of the line.

So what else is new?

Does any of that address how or why an 11-year-old girl can spend 48 hours away from home with a “boyfriend”? After leaving with him Tuesday, the girl was found at a motel Thursday night by sheriff’s investigators.

I’m not sure I want to ponder a scenario where that’s possible. Unfortunately, it is -- and as a result, the boyfriend and mom both went to jail and the girl is in protective custody.

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Sounds like a good place for all of them.

The young girl was gone for 28 hours before her mother alerted the police, says Jim Amormino, the Orange County Sheriff’s Department spokesman.

“My mother would have waited about 28 seconds,” Amormino says.

The girl is alive. Her companion apparently picked her up at her apartment complex in Stanton and took her at least as far as Long Beach. Authorities have accused him of various sex-related crimes.

The girl’s mother, Amormino says, was arrested on suspicion of child endangerment. Just doing the arithmetic tells me there’s a sad cycle of dysfunction here: The girl is 11, her mother is only 28, and Mom has another child who’s 14.

Children raising babies is not a formula for success. Mom may well have a legitimately woeful story to tell, but it’ll be hard to come up with anything that justifies not knowing where your 11-year-old is overnight.

The other blanks probably aren’t that hard to fill in. The young girl, exposed to TV and magazines and chat lines or Internet sites that from time to time trade in sex, was too immature to separate reality from fantasy.

The Parents’ Place

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Eleven-year-old girls always want to be older than 11. They want to talk older, act older, look older. That’s where parents enter the picture -- to maintain the balance in a child’s life between the normal act of playing grown-up and the very real need to grow up at the right speed.

Nobody says it’s easy, but it’s not impossible. Parents by the millions do it every day.

And then, added to a world where preteen girls check out the sexy charms of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera come the telephone chat lines -- yet another way to help them age much faster than they should.

“They are dangerous,” Amormino says of the party lines, which also can be completely harmless. “You never know who or what type of person you’re going to meet. It sometimes is a haven for sexual predators.”

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I ask Amormino how common it is for youngsters to meet bad guys online.

“I’d say, as far as meeting up with them, there’s a lot more than we’d like to see,” he says.

“To meet older men on the chat line, that’s not unusual. But it’s very unusual -- it’s the first time I’ve ever heard -- for an 11-year-old.”

In this case, Amormino says, the girl’s mother had “prior knowledge” that her daughter had met older men (who wouldn’t qualify as an older man?) on the phone. He says she took no “corrective action.”

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This situation is so crazy that we’re all breathing easier that the girl was returned, alive, to her home.

Some happy ending: just your average 11-year-old girl spending a couple nights away from home, thinking she’s growing up at warp speed but not realizing she’s been set way, way back.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Readers may reach Parsons by calling (714) 966-7821 or by writing to him at The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or by e-mail to dana.parsons@latimes.com.

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