You may have seen reports in the media recently about how the way we respond to our boys and girls, with reference to their gender, can hold them back.
An investigation conducted by Dr Javid Abelmoneim, has been looking into the issue. He devised some activities and experiments for a class of seven year olds to see how much their perception of gender influenced their attitudes. He discovered that this attitude impacts on their confidence, self esteem and importantly their achievements both in education and later life.
The activities that he did with them encouraged them to think about how they saw themselves in relation to typical gender stereotyping like how strong they were, who did what jobs both in the home and out of it, who would be good at certain things, and how they saw themselves. Typically girls used words like pretty and referenced their image, and boys used words relating to strength and active play.
Despite the fact that we think we are a society which breeds equality between the sexes it has been clear from recent reports that this is not the case. An example was the case of the male and female tv presenters being paid differently for the same job. Dr Abelmoneim believes that the way we respond to our kids sets their attitudes and roles right from being young and results in this kind of inequality being perpetuated.
And it starts right from our parenting, through us buying into the gender differences in toys and clothes perhaps, in the activities we guide our kids towards (e.g. few girls are encouraged to play football or have construction toys, few boys dance or own dolls), in the language we use and expectations we have of them.
The programmes were fascinating – and quite shocking in that as parents we may be inadvertently perpetuating later inequality in opportunity, expectation, confidence and achievement. They’re worth watching.
By the end of the study there was a marked difference in the children, especially in confidence, empathy and achievement, suggesting that by changing how we use gender references we can perhaps improve our children’s chances.
So some things we might do as parents are;
- Examine our attitudes and responses to our kids. Are we guilty of implying boys are strong and girls are weaker, boys don’t cry and girls need to look pretty!
- Investigate whether we buy into the insidious marketing of gender referenced toys and clothes (e.g. boys have blue, girls have pink and girlie, boys have Lego and cars, girls have dolls and make up), which inhibits the children from making true choices from personal preference.
- Encourage their choices irrespective of whether they fit gender stereotypes.
- Nurture their strength and confidence by encouraging them to have a go irrespective of whether they are a girl or a boy or what the activity is. And develop emotional maturity in the same way through open discussions about feelings with either sex.
- Make sure that through our attitude we aren’t inhibiting our children by suggesting one sex is weaker or stronger, or cleverer than the other, or implying certain academic subjects are only relevant for certain genders.
By being more gender neutral in the way we parent and educate we can gradually diminish the gender inequality that still exists and help kids fulfil their potential.