It's no big secret that little girls love to play dress up. Trying on mom's favorite heels and plastering lip gloss all over the face is practically a developmental milestone. But children's fashion designers seem to be taking the latest "mini-me" trend just a little too far.

I found myself scanning the beach in complete shock as I walked my six-year-old along the water in search of shells and sea glass the other day. Wearing a short-sleeve rash guard shirt and matching swim skirt, she looked every bit her age. But we encountered several children only a couple of years her senior dressed in clothing fit for a teen. One girl, no more than eight years old, donned a string bikini that left most of her body bare. Another girl, no more than nine or ten years old, wore cut-off shorts so short and so small that the top button was left unbuttoned. She had a string bikini on top.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Young girls everywhere are walking around in short skirts and three-inch heels, their smartphones at the ready. Childhood, it seems, is quickly getting lost to fashion.

Childhood, it seems, is quickly getting lost to fashion.

Barely-there clothing and high heels are part of a new trend in children's fashion. Intended to help kids look more like their moms or, more likely, like the celebrities they see on the covers of magazines, this latest fashion trend comes with potential consequences.

A recent article in the New York Times addresses this recent spike in the "mini-me" children's wear market. The article cites several mainstream fashion lines carrying impractical copycat fashions for kids, including wedge heels and maxi dresses.

Blurring the lines between fashion and child development opens kids up to social-emotional problems. Blurring the lines between fashion and function raises the risk of injury and potentially hinders physical growth and development.

Setting appropriate boundaries

When little kids clomp around the house in their parents' oversized clothing, they are engaged in pretend play. They are trying on different family roles and emulating their heroes (also known as Mom and Dad).

While I am always in favor of promoting independence and responsibility in children, it should be done with regard to developmental age.

When little kids (and big kids) are given clothing and accessories in their size that mimic much older and more mature styles, the lines get blurred. Suddenly, a nine-year-old looks like sixteen-year-old and a sixteen-year-old looks like a twenty-something. It's only a matter of time before children start to act the part in their choices, behaviors, affect and temperament.

Kids need boundaries. Lack of appropriate boundaries lead to confusion and emotional instability. While I am always in favor of promoting independence and responsibility in children, it should be done with regard to developmental age.

little girl in dress-up clothesLet kids be kids

Childhood is fleeting and often includes specific childhood pressures (the pressure to fit in, the pressure to succeed at school, the pressure on the playing field, etc.). The pressure to grow up quickly should not be one of them.

Fill the dress-up trunk with play heels, fancy gowns and costume jewelry galore so that your kids can engage in fantasy play, but when it comes to the real world, choose age-appropriate clothing that works well for rough and tumble play and long days on the playground.

A risk of injury

Many elementary schools recommend that children wear sneakers or other closed-toe shoes to school each day, and for good reason. Due to their continuous growth and activity level during play, kids are at a greater risk for sprains, fractures and other injuries if they are not wearing proper play shoes.

kids sneakers

And it isn't just the shoes. Long maxi dresses can get caught in playground equipment and super-tight skinny jeans can make it hard to run, jump and play in a manner that suits kids. When they have to overcompensate for their clothing, they are at risk for injury. A fall from the monkey bars because the pants were too tight to move the legs just might result in a broken bone.

Bottom Line^ Dress your kids like kids. There's a lot to be said for living in the moment.

More on parenting

Toddler fashion police
Tips for empowering girls
Tips for teaching listening skills