By Angela Ardolino, Tampa Bay Parenting (TBParenting.com)
For as long as most people can remember, certain jobs, activities and behaviors have been associated with men while others for women. And although we have come along way from what gender stereotype were in the 1950s, our children are still bombarded with these messages on a constant basis. From the teenage boy who who’s ashamed of showing emotion to the young girl who’s too embarrassed to try out for the baseball team, gender stereotypes can certainly be confusing and even damaging for any developing child.
Surprisingly there is plenty that parents can do to avoid the mixed messages at home, in public and at school. Learning to spot even the subtlest stereotypes will help you guide your kids to make choices based on what they like.
Why should we avoid stereotypes:
Stereotypes paint many people unfairly and misinform kids about the world they live in. Kids should be who they are instead of trying to be someone else. Allowing your child to be themselves is a sure way to raise a confident and independent child. Pay attention to what your kids are interested in and good at instead of what they should be doing because they are a girl or a boy.
What you can do at home:
Whether we like it or not, gender stereotypes are all around us. Many fast food chains, toy and retail stores have been the most guilty of segregating goods and services for kids into boys and girls choices with usually one selection for each. Now, there’s nothing wrong with your son wanting the action figure and your daughter wanting the bubbles dispenser, but what challenges kids is the preconceived notion that they’re supposed to want one over they other, based only on their gender.
The best solution for combating this is giving your kids as many options when buying a product or encouraging them to choose from a variety of items. If you see consistent stereotyping by a retailer, communicate your concerns or stop shopping there all together.
Most gender stereotypes at home are said in jest. For example if mom demands dad should have the car fixed because he’s a man, or if dad asks mom to iron his shirt because she’s a woman. Start by making sure that the house is an environment where your kids feel like they can do anything they set their mind to regardless of what the objective is. They can also express themselves to you no matter what the problem is, free of judgment. Invite your kids to find role models that tear down these stereotypes, like Danica Patrick or Mikhail Baryshnikov.
Don’t forget to pay close attention to what your children watch on T.V. and see on the Internet. Something as silly as SpongeBob Squarepants or what they saw on Facebook can lead to misinterpretation or confusion. Be proactive and discuss characters or ideas that take on a stereotype that you disagree with and make sure the kids know why the particular stereotype is not accurate.
Often times, children who do not fit in the traditional gender role are targets of bullying, harassment and sometimes, bad grades. Your child’s teachers and coaches should not have policies or practices that favor boys or girls and encourage an environment where everyone can be themselves. If you have any concerns don’t be afraid to bring it to the school’s attention.
Additionally, you can avoid the effects of gender stereotypes at school by preparing your kids for it. Your child should know that being different or eccentric is not bad and they should understand that not everyone is going to like their personality or who they are.
Teaching your child and making sure they’re decisions are based on what is best for them and nothing else is the greatest way to avoid gender stereotypes and will help kids express themselves to the fullest.