Children and Gender – Part 2

May 5th, 2009 by Pelle Billing

In my last post I argued against raising children in a way which is incongruent with the rest of society. Children aren’t responsible for challenging or developing the current gender roles, parents are. Rather than trying to quell the natural instincts of children, I believe in the importance of identifying and working with the areas in life that are gender neutral.

Children tend to organize themselves into same-sex peer groups. Boy and girls usually prefer very different styles of playing, with girls opting for role playing and emotional sharing, while boys do activities together that don’t require as much emotional intimacy – at least not through talking.

Restricting children’s styles of playing is not something I believe in. Children need to be allowed to explore their environment in the way that they are hardwired to do. By hardwired I don’t mean that all girls and all boys are the same, I simply mean the way that each individual child is hardwired.

Trying to force children to play in a certain way is not a good idea as far as I’m concerned. A child’s creativity is developed through play, and continuously interrupting and stifling this creativity can hardly be good for the child’s development and self-esteem.

Obviously parents need to control certain behaviors such as bullying or fighting, but actually dictating what your child does when playing is akin to implementing communism or fascism in your child’s universe. Playtime is the first area where a child explores his or her autonomy, and the very act of interfering with that process decreases said autonomy.

On the other hand, children need to be socialized into responsible citizens, if we’re interested in maintaining a civilized society. This means that parents need to claim part of their children’s time, in order to raise them responsibly and help them become well-adapted adults.

In other words, the flip side of parents letting children play the way they want in order for them to explore their creativity, is that parents and adults need to be proactive in teaching children how the world works and what is expected of them.

Some of the gender neutral areas that parents can and should affect, regardless of whether it’s a boy or a girl who’s being raised, are the following:

  • Education. The importance of studying and doing well in school needs to be equally emphasized for both sexes.
  • Chores. I think that boys and girls alike can benefit from learning about cooking, woodwork, car maintenance, baking, etc. Unless you’re exposed to all kinds of chores, there is no way to find out what is interesting to you. Only teaching boys traditional male chores, and girls traditional female chores, is limiting in my opinion.
  • Work ethic. If you work, you get paid. If you do not work, you do not get paid. Children who aren’t taught about the relationship between performance and rewards usually have a hard time adjusting to adulthood.
  • Moral code. In postmodern circles it’s not uncommon to claim that all morality is relative (which is interesting, since “all morality” constitutes an absolute claim). I don’t believe that to be true at all, even though there certainly is a subjective component to morality. The common mantra of “you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone else”, is eventually nothing but a moral cop-out. Kids are constantly looking for structure and meaning in their world, and removing all structure and meaning will not help their development. Parents need to dare to speak out about their own views on legal matters, friendship, sexuality, etc.

So… not everything’s about gender. Children are perfectly capable of managing their own gender specific behavior when playing and hanging out with their friends, and the role of parents and adults is more than anything to socialize kids into educated and morally responsible adults who can contribute meaningfully to society. The tendency to let these gender neutral areas slide is a dangerous one, and intuitively I feel that there could be a connection here to boys’ deteriorating performance in school.


One Response to “Children and Gender – Part 2”

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