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Gender differences in children: Do parents encourage it?
Are males and females treated equally in all aspects?
Let me start by asking you a simple question: Do you think that men and women are treated equally - even though we live in a 'liberal and modern' society?
The question about the differences between sexes has been in debate for many years. Like it or not, males and females are treated differently in various aspects. It also means that they are perceived differently. Women are usually viewed as subjective, warm dependent and emotional whereas men are more independent, ambitious, unemotional and objective (Deaux & LaFrance, 1998). There is no doubt that the stereotypes associated with gender still exist. For example, even if women are working on high ranking positions, majority of them are expected to do most of the housework.
Does parenting encourage these sex-differences?
When parents are asked about the upbringing of their children, their usual answer would be that they have treated both boys and girls the same way. But is that really true? Are boys given the same toys as the girls and vice versa? Do we stimulate boys to get involved in the same activities as the girls and vice versa? What about our expectations from the boys and the girls? Do we expect boys to have a career as a nurse or make-up artist? There are subtle ways that promote the differences between girls and boys.
Many parents say that they do treat their sons and daughters in the same way, but there are subtle and usually unintended differences in the parenting. There was a study by Rubin et al (1974) that first-time parents perceive their new-born boys as more alert, stronger and bigger than the average babies, while the new-born girls are not seen as different from the average. This study shows that right from the beginning there is a difference in the perception of parents and this pattern is still valid.
Moving on from the infancy to the achievements of the children, there seem to be a difference in the way parents explain the achievements of boys and girls. A study by Parsons et al (1982) has shown that when a girl is successful (academically or career-wise), her accomplishments are described as due to her hard-work and dedication. The focus is more on the effort that she has put into it. On the contrary, when a boy achieves success his accomplishments are due to his ability and capability. It seems like boys just have it what it takes to be successful.
Before anyone get upset about this finding, another study by Dweck (1998) has shown that children that are rewarded for their efforts tend to perform better in education - which gives girls an advantage. This means that the best thing parents can do to motivate and stimulate their children to do well in the education is to appreciate their hard-work and reward their effort instead of their ability. Praising their effort will encourage them to work hard and give them strength and flexibility in order to face any failures.
The moral of the story is that although we may think that we treat boys and girls the same, we actually do encourage the difference and engage with them differently – of course it is usually done in subtle and non-intentional ways. Ultimately, parenting depends on the mindset and the thinking of parents, but one thing that should be avoided is the extent of inequality in the upbringing of children which negatively impacts the social and mental development of the child.