Developing children are heavily influenced by society’s norms. Society has certain ways that it treats little boys and little girls. Girls are typically seen as more delicate, fragile, and needing special care. Boys are seen as rough, tough, loud, and independent. These stereotypes begin the second a child is born, and in many cases, even before the child is born. However, if parents are determined to raise a child without these boundaries, they can do so. First of all, parents should not automatically treat their baby as a typical boy or girl.
That means that boys should be protected, and girls should be subject to rough play. If parents dress their little girls in frilly dresses and tights everyday, and their boys in jeans and t-shirts, then everyone who sees them will make assumptions about them based on gender. Instead, parents should look for more gender-neutral clothing so that their kids are seen as individuals and not stereotypes. Clothing and images are important, because this is the first way that people guess about the sex of a child and decide how to treat him or her.
From the lecture, when a baby was introduced to a kindergarten class dressed neutrally and not given a name, it was treated as cuddly and small, but neutrally. When introduced as “Johnny” and dressed as a boy, it was considered tough, loud, and fussy. When the same baby was introduced as “Laura” and dressed as a girl, it was considered fragile, quiet, and delicate. Names and clothing have a large impact on how a person is treated, so parents can combat this by not dressing their children in stereotypical ways. Second, parents should encourage their kids to get involved in a-typical activities.
If a girl is interested in math and science, or camping, she should be encouraged to participate in these activities. If a boy would like to take gymnastics or ballet or play with dolls, then he should be encouraged to do these activities. By allowing children to explore non-typical activities, they are able to develop their own personalities and interests, outside of what their gender allows. While it may be difficult for parents to do this at first, since camping is associated with “tom boys,” and ballet is associated with “sissies,” parents should persist in allowing their children to participate in activities of the child’s choosing.
Parents also need to ignore any criticism they may receive from other sources. Third, parents should encourage children to have friends of both genders. If little girls are only friends with other little girls, they will still receive stereotypical messages about how little girls should dress and behave, even if their parents are trying not to send these messages. The same is true for boys. Instead, parents should encourage their children to interact with a variety of other children, so that they can develop different interests and share these interests with the appropriate playmates.
According to the research presented in class, kids are aware of gender stereotypes by age three, so ideally, they should be encouraged to have many friends and participate in different activities before they reach this age. If parents treat their children as individuals from birth, then their notions of what a particular gender is like will not be formed the same way as if the parents had treated them by the current gender stereotypes. This is important to note.
Parents may find, of course, that their little girls enjoy typical “girly” things, and if these activities or ideas are not being pushed on the girls, there is no reason not to enjoy them. However, parents should always be careful that they are not being overly protective of little girls and asking little boys to be overly independent. Fourth, parents should socialize their children to be independent problem-solvers. It is a problem, especially once children enter elementary school, that girls ask for help frequently and they receive.
Research cited in class says that girls ask for help three times as often as boys do, and parents readily respond. Boys are pushed to be independent, and girls are offered help frequently, which means that boys learn to be independent, and girls learn to rely on help. In one experiment mentioned in class, when a barrier was placed between an infant girl and her mother, she would cry and wait to be rescued. When the same was done to a boy, he would simply find a way around the barrier to get back to mom.
Instead, parents need to train both boys and girls that it is okay to ask for help sometimes, and it is okay to cry. They also need to train them that they should try to solve their problems by themselves before asking for help. This issue really goes both ways. Boys are pushed to be too independent sometimes. They are told to “toughen up” and “only girls cry” if they are sad or upset about something. Boys are not given sympathy easily when they may need it. Girls, on the other hand, are told that they should cry over things, and they should ask for help, and they are offered help before they ask often times.
Instead, both boys and girls should be taught which situations require “toughening up” (i. e. your friend called you a mean name) and which situations require help (i. e. the child had a very bad day at school and has no recourse). This way, the gender stereotypes are balanced for both. Finally, parents must model the behavior that they expect to see in their children. If parents would like to see their children be independent and interested in a variety of subjects, regardless of gender, then both parents need to model this.
Mothers can be heavily involved in camping trips, boy and girl scout meetings, and all kinds of rough-and-tumble play. Fathers can take little girls to ballet class, talk about their feelings, and do other “non-male” things. Parents must be willing to break out of the stereotypes themselves. Mothers can play violent videogames with both boys and girls, and fathers can take boys and girls on calm nature walks. If the parents are modeling sincere interest in non-gender stereotype activities, then children will naturally follow in their parents’ footsteps.
In lecture, Roberta Bondar was raised as a “son” and ended up with a strong interest in math and science, which is atypical for a girl. Although breaking the boundaries of gender stereotypes is not easy, it is possible to do. Parents must be on guard against stereotypes at all times, so that they do not portray or expose their children to these ideas. The ways in which parents talk to their children and treat them should be markedly different than the way society treats kids.
Parents also need to stand up to other parents who disagree with what they are doing, and who make comments about the inappropriateness of boys in ballet class or girls learning to hunt. Instead, parents should rely on themselves and their own knowledge and interest in different subjects to teach their kids that it is possible to do well in any area and to enjoy any subject, regardless of gender. Only this way will kids learn to break out of the molds society has created in order to enjoy their true interests.