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Gender conditioning and its impact on kids

By Mansi Jain,

Parents sub-consciously ingrain the concept of gender stereotypes in the minds of children from a very early stage.

Messages of societal gender roles are also modelled by the parents’ own lifestyle.

Cultures provide expectations for boys and girls, and children begin learning about gender roles from the norms of their family and cultural background. From the moment parents become aware of the biological sex of their child, the information starts influencing even the smallest of their decisions like choosing colours, picking toys, movies, clothes and even books for their child to read. These decisions may be conscious and sub-conscious too. But they induce the concept of gender stereotype surreptitiously in young, impressionable minds. Kitchenettes, tea sets, and dollhouses as toys for daughters to play with versus toy cars and dinosaurs for sons: These seemingly inconsequential choices condition kids to view the world from a restrictive perspective.  

Is your parenting gender-biased? 
Sometimes, parents take their children’s biological sex as a guiding principle for minor and major socialization decisions regardless of the kid’s individual characteristics, behaviours and choices. This is referred to as gendered parenting. For example, aside from the material things picked for children for their entertainment, even the way adults respond to disruptive behaviours is different for boys and girls. Parents have a much more negative response to their daughters acting out than their sons. This feeds into the stereotype of how men grow up to be risk-takers, while women are supposed to be polite and nice to others. 

These messages of societal gender roles are also modelled by the parents’ own lifestyle. Division of labour at home where the mother takes on caring for the children and all the housework and the father takes on the role of the breadwinner, becomes a dynamic that children learn to imitate. 

How does this affect the children? 
Research has shown that at a very early age, children quickly internalise this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent as it is constantly reinforced at almost every turn, by siblings, classmates, teachers, parents, relatives, etc. Where boys generally get encouraged to explore their autonomy as they reach adolescence, girls are told to stay indoors. Girls tend to internalise restrictive societal rules about the way they should dress, speak, act, and socialize. These conditionings push them into taking a subservient stance. Boys, on the other hand, are impelled to the opposite side of the spectrum where they begin conforming to typically masculine traits which are likely to become toxic in nature as they grow up. 

Also, girls are forced to mature quickly as compared to boys, and develop an awareness of the world around them from an early age. They are encouraged to proceed with a modicum of caution when interacting with boys and a sense of shared vulnerability when interacting with other girls. 

Boys, on the other hand, tend to face hindrances in their emotional development as the stereotype of strength and independence deters them from showing any vulnerability in social situations. They don’t learn how to properly regulate their emotions and it affects the way interact with others. 

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