Gender and Child Raising

January 18th, 2010 by Pelle Billing

The nature vs nurture debate is a seemingly endless source of controversy and discussion. Opinions range from biological determinism to the rejection of any meaningful impact by innate factors. This general discussion about what causes human behavior also has a more specific component; namely, how do we raise our children? Are boys boisterous creatures who need a mixture of running wild and strict discipline to become decent men? Or are girls and boys virtually the same, and it is simply our deeply ingrained habitual patterns that program them to take on the same old gender roles as always?

My take on these questions is that we don’t even need to know the answers to be able to raise a child, as long as we are open to whatever is emerging within the child. A young boy may behave like a typical boy, or he may behave nothing like a typical boy. The important task for us as adults is to accept the child, regardless of whether he or she fits into our preconceived notions of how they should behave. If a boy enjoys playing with a doll, do we have the guts to allow him to do so, or do we clearly demonstrate that this behavior is unwanted?

The important thing is that our openness needs to go both ways. Regardless of whether a young boy prefers playing with cars or dolls, the challenge for us is to support him in whatever is the organic development path for him. The same goes for girls of course. Staying open to the fact that each child is an individual, and not automatically a mirror image of what we expect a boy or girl to be, can be a real challenge.

All this said, research indicates that innate gender differences do exist, and that they do affect the behavior of young children. This has been shown several times in the past, and a fresh research report adds even more credibility to this body of knowledge. However, this knowledge about innate gender differences doesn’t really affect the principle I outline above. Treating each child as an individual is the best way to secure that the child gets the kind of socialization process that he or she needs. The end result will likely be that most boys play with cars, since there are genetic and hormonal drivers for this. However, some boys will prefer dolls most of the time, and some boys will want to play with dolls a smaller proportion of time. If we cannot accommodate the needs of these boys (or the girls that prefer playing with trucks), then what kind of people are we?

The ultimate answer to the nature vs nurture debate is as always that both matter. And the way to allow nature and nurture to combine in the most beneficial way for the child is to see the unique needs of each child.

10 Responses to “Gender and Child Raising”

  1. Feckless Says:

    You have a way with words….great post!

  2. Eivind Says:

    Balanced and wise. Good job.


  3. hopeless_case Says:


    My take on these questions is that we don’t even need to know the answers to be able to raise a child, as long as we are open to whatever is emerging within the child.

    That is a beautiful point.

    It amazes me how I have never seen it acknowledged in the mainstream media.

    It’s almost as if they pursue controversy for its own sake.

    It is truly satisfying to see so many media outlets lose the competition for attention to the broader internet.

    With every newspaper that closes its doors, my heart lightens a little more.

  4. Jay Hammers Says:

    Agreed. I mentioned on Reddit that boys and girls should be educated separately due to learning differences and behavioral differences. Someone else pointed out the following, though:
    Everyone learns differently. Not all boys would learn best in the “boys” class, nor would all girls learn best in the “girls” class.
    Proper education should take into account various learning styles and ensure that all students have their needs met.

    And I have to agree. Everyone learns differently and should have an education tailored to them. But how can we do that effectively?

  5. Mark Davenport Says:


    So, if we tailor education to fit individual needs, do we lose the good that separate classes for the sexes might do? How would it affect “effeminate” boys or “masculine” girls to be grouped with the opposite sex? How would you or I as children have reacted to such individuals? How would you or I have reacted had it been us who were segregated from our same sex classmates?

    Any net progress here? I don’t know.

  6. Jay Hammers Says:

    Yeah, Mark, a lot of these idealistic things I hope for like state-sponsored educational programs and education tailored to individual needs are DIFFICULT to implement perfectly. A first step might be separating boys and girls and going from there. I tend to think everything can be calculated with enough information, so at some point we should know the best way to get the fairest educational system for the average person. Maybe.

    It would be nice if society stopped judging. It would make things a lot easier. But that’s not going to happen for a long time, probably never. I’m starting to realize more and more how flawed human beings are. We may never get past our flaws.

  7. Androgynous Parenting? Says:

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  8. keith Says:

    Sorry but as a parent I believe there is an important component that is being overlooked.

    The immutable fact is we educate our children to survive and navigate their environments, safely. This fact will always contradict the intention of our ideals.

    There is a direct correlation between playing with dolls and never being accused or charged with a gender crime or sex crime in western culture.

    Dolls objectify human form and represent a unidirectional form of communication that can be described as manipulation and coercion. Simply because the doll never responds. Or if it does the response is expressed by the manipulator. It inherently encrypts and programs narcissism into a child.

    Giving a boy a doll to manipulate, dress, undress, fondle, objectify and coerce in the face of western legislation and gender biased laws that represent zero tolerance and no drop prosecution against males is irresponsible. Unless of course you are playing cops and perpetrator and your enacting his arrest after touching the doll.

    Dolls are great for role play, especially the kind of role play where one person controls everything. Lets teach that to all our kids.

    Thank you very much I’ll go with objectifying cars and trucks it offers better mental health as a result.

    If I was the church lady from saturday night live I would be reminding you that

    I-DOL-ATRY spells Saaataan!

  9. T. Rose Says:

    Dolls can be looked at that way,or they can be looked at as the first child with the little kid being the mother/father which can play into the maternal/paternal instinct which can be very healthy. It isn’t necessarily for manipulation and coercion purposes.

    Which is why this post is well done,becuase it is open to points like this,that along points like the type of doll or truck.

    After the masculine doll might attract the boy more than the feminine truck or generic truck,just as the girl might prefer the toy punch-buggy to the masculine doll or generic doll or maybe the other way around.

    Point is when you raise a child like an individual and stay open you leave room for these things,and that’s what I like about this article

  10. keith Says:

    Sorry to wiggle your safety belt, but I have always held experiential self actualization to be much more important than projection. Much of the failure in human relations can be attributed to defining others by projecting our feelings on them.

    When it comes to Maternal/Paternal instincts, these are rooted in real biological processes that alter both men and women physically during the actual experience.

    Projecting maternal love onto an inanimate piece of plastic to appear as cute to an adult, may serve a harsh contradiction and conflict to a new mother suffering post par-tum depression or struggling to breast feed. Particularly when the baby is not as cooperative as a doll. It may further serve to assign shame to that mother rather than allow her to speak openly about her experience and gain the assistance she may need. Being the perfect mother at age 4 does not lead to being the perfect mother at age 24.

    I do agree that it is important to be open accessible and attentive as a parent. How do we achieve this. By projecting or respecting a child. Watching my son in the “play”ground go up and down the stairs 50 times led me to conclude that he wasn’t playing he was working at problem solving. I have great respect for his initiative and determination. It is my responsibility to provide him access to overcome his challenges and support and assist his success. For me there is no argument between nurture and nature. It is my responsibility to nurture “his” nature. I cannot understand the full scope of that context, his context without spending as much time as possible with him.