Gender Generalizations in Parenting

Little Girl and Boy

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at

Managers quickly discover there are many differences in the way that the different genders handle problems, challenges, and disappointments in the workplace.

Past common wisdom attributed those differences mostly to hormones…or corporate culture…or just plain bias against one sex or another, depending on the organization you worked for.

Today, although those attitudes may still exist under the surface, there has usually been just enough sensitizing and sexual harassment training to teach everyone to try to keep their attitudes in check.

I believe it is time to change things for the next generation if we can. Let’s check our underlying attitudes about boys and girls!
Yes, they are different. Physically and mentally they develop differently and at different rates, with different skills coming on-line at different times. But you know what? Even in a specific group of boys or a group of girls, you will usually see a typical Bell curve of developmental differences. It may not be as dramatic, but it still exists and there will be boys who have more in common with girls, and girls who have more in common with boys.

If you have a boy. Some people will tell you that boys are more difficult. “They are too high energy, they make everything into weapons, they are loud and distracting and they don’t listen to the rules.” Wow, that’s a lot of generalizations…and a whole load of hooey. Boys are just as able to control themselves as girls if they are given clear expectations of behavior, clear rewards and consequences for their actions and consistent enforcement of all of these things. My friends who have boys see red when their sons are automatically categorized as hooligans just because they happen to have XY on their chromosome charts.

Do they need more physical activity? Possibly, but I would submit that is really more of an individual need from child to child. There are many girls who have the same need for higher levels of physical activity.

Don’t let anyone box your boy in and don’t fall for the “boys will be boys” line. Teach him how to behave and how to care for himself so that he is not dependent on you or another person to care for him as he gets older. Teach him how to be a polite person in society and get along with his peers, for there are many benefits he can reap from that knowledge. Read books on raising boys, but be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that your child’s sex is either a liability or an advantage. There are dangers in either of those positions and I have seen many books on child rearing that seem to pit parents against each other in these areas. That is just silly.

Gender is. Deal with it and get back to thinking about what kind of person you want to raise.

If you have a girl. Generally, girls can be more verbal and verbal earlier than boys and so this is an advantage in school, etc., but that is not the case for all girls. People may say to you, “Oh you are so lucky you have a girl. Girls are so easy.” Another generalization and another load of hooey. Girls may be influenced in our society to be a bit more amenable to authority, but not all by any means. Some of the most rebellious children I have encountered on my motherhood odyssey have been girls. Some were even bullies, and they were the hardest for my children to fight back against because they were rarely direct or physical in their attacks.

Girls can be as difficult as boys in many ways but are often more communicative in their rebellion. Again, your best strategy is to start from the beginning with clear expectations of behavior, clear rewards and consequences for their actions and consistent enforcement of all of these things.

Stress to your girls that they are capable of anything they decide to do, and they are never, ever dependent on their appearance for their worth. (Remember they are getting very contradictory messages from magazines, TV and other media!) Encourage them to follow their interests, whatever they are, and listen, listen, listen.

Blogger, Sherri Kuhn, wrote an interesting piece about raising “gender neutral” children. This may go further than you are comfortable with, but it makes some good points.

Many self-worth messages are the strongest for both genders when they come from a father, and in families that lack a father figure, I suggest trying to find a Mentor or other strong male role model for young girls and boys. This is a vulnerability, not inherent so much in gender as in our culture, and you can do something about it if you are aware of it.

So, bottom line…try not to generalize about gender. Think about your child as an individual and try very hard to separate from the pack when other mothers or fathers start girl or boy generalizing.  You know it isn’t all true, and you also know that if you say or even think something enough, you will start to believe it and see it that way.

Start observing your child closely, and finding the ways he or she is different from the rest of the group. You never know when that observation will be just the thing to pull out and share with them when they think people don’t like them or are just having a bad day.

We all like to feel special and unique…especially to our Moms and Dads.

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