I recently had a conversation with a few of my friends about how parents influence the development of gender identity in their children. The conversation was sparked when we saw a woman at a store pull a doll away from her son and say “Only girls can play with those. Let’s find you a boy toy”. The boy was upset, but also seemed to to believe his mother and the pair went on their way. This situation really annoyed me because I knew that interaction was likely going to have an impact on the rest of that boy’s life. He believed his mother was telling the truth and that boys couldn’t possible play with dolls because it was against some backwards rule.
My Pearson textbook on Lifespan Development indicates that kids start to get a good understanding of gender identity and gender roles in early childhood. Parents and the child’s environment plays a major role in showing kids what is expected of boys and girls. This is so significant because everything from their personalities, their hobbies, their careers, and how they interact with other kids can then be influenced by their perceptions of gender. As a result of this, I feel like more care should be taken in they way we help kids understand genders.
I think a child should be told what biological sex they are, but they shouldn’t get rules that limit the development of their interests and personalities. Especially with regards to something as trivial as what toys they can play with. It’s 2016, boys and girls should be given a variety of toys; from dolls to books to monster trucks. I would want my children to be well rounded and not stunted by antiquated gender roles. When I was growing up my favorite toys were remote control cars and Barbies; and no, the cars weren’t pink.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not saying girls shouldn’t like stereotypical feminine things and boys shouldn’t like stereotypical masculine things; what I am advocating is allowing kids to play with whatever, and supporting those decisions. There are so many more important things to stress about. One of my family members once said they wouldn’t let their son play with dolls or stuffed animals because it would make them gay. It made me so angry that she honestly believed playing with those things would suddenly make her son like males when he’s older. And even if it did, would it really be that terrible? I feel like more education should be given to help parents change those perceptions and not limit children.
If you get a chance, be sure to watch this super cute video on a girl name Riley who’s very upset with companies making gender-specific toys:
Additionally, an interesting article about the effects of Disney princesses on children can be found here. I really enjoyed how it addresses positive and negative aspects of the princesses and how it teaches lessons to both males and females alike. I agree that the positive lessons in these stories should be pointed out to kids to make sure they’re understanding morals of them. However, I feel the most important part of this article is when the author notes that ostracizing feminine girls is just as bad as not letting them do masculine things.
Cultural Fun Fact!!
Things that are perceived as feminine in the U.S. can often be perceived as masculine in other countries. For example, pink is traditionally used for boys is Belgium and men hold hands to signify friendship in various Middle Eastern countries, like Saudi Arabia.