The girls are inside. It is 10 o'clock and dark. They are 13. The mother is not being unreasonable when she tells that visiting hours are over. She doesn't want them on th street late at night. They know that.

Instead, their friends will walk over here for ice cream and cookies and conversation. That's different. The friends are boys, and boys are allowed out on the street late at night.

The mother, scooping the ice cream out of the container for all of them, thinks to herself: it has begun -- the slow separation between what boys can do and girls cannot.

Not long ago, the freedom of all four was curtailed by the joint fact of their childhood. They were equally small, young, weak, protected. Now they are growing out of the vulnerability of their youth. But the girls acquire a new vulnerability: their sex.

She has known these boys most of their lives. Their independence, mobility, physical freedom is growing exponentially. The freedom of the girls is growing, too, but carefully, within certain fences and fears, prearranged routes and routines.

Are the parents of daughters overprotective? the mother asks herself. Do we stunt their growth with our caution? What else can we do in the face of the reality of their greater risk?

There is one statistical fact that slams down like an iron door against their freedom of movement. The fact of assault.

Last week, a woman was raped in the neighborhood. Last week, there was hardly a neighborhood in which a woman was not raped. That is the painful truth that divides the lives of growing boys and girls.

If parents are congenitally concerned with safety for all their children, we still worry differently about daughters. We don't want to, but we have to.

Years ago, during a wave of crimes against women in Israel, a council of men asked Golda Meir to put a nighttime curfew on females. Meir said no. If men were the problem, she answered, let the council enforce a curfew against men.

Now a mother who had cheered Meir puts a curfew on her daughter. Like generations of parents before her, she chooses safety over growth for her child, protection over risk. It's what parents usually do, and she is, for better and worse, no exception.

The son of a friend has just returned from California. At 20, he traveled back and forth by thumb. His father worried, but he also accepted this as a rite of passage, an adventure of adulthood. The risk was worth the returns of self-confidence, experience, independence.

But if the young man had been a young woman, the balance of payments for this adventure could have been quite different: the real risks greater, the anxiety greater.

In Simone de Beauvoir's book "The Prime of Life," she describes a year during her life when she took leaps, deliberate physical challenges. Among other things, the writer hitchhiked regularly and alone.

As a woman, the mother understands de Beauvoir's deliberate rebellion, her need to act as if she were completely free. De Beauvoir forced herself to unlearn fear, to learn independence.

But as a mother, she thinks such behavior is foolhardy. As a mother she teaches her daughter the lessons that she someday may have to unlearn. She watches other parents teach these same lessons. She sees older girls not allowed to walk home from movies alone, older girls who learn that they need a man to be safe from men.

It is 11 o'clock now, and the 13-year-old boys have to be home. Today, only an hour separates their freedoms. But that gap will grow.

The mother will do what she can. She will, at some point, buy lessons in self-defense. She will encourage other, safer kinds of growth and risk. She will struggle against her maternal anxiety.

And she will also rage. Rage is sorrow against the violence that forces parents, of all people, to become the agents of their daughters' suppression.