Family

Are you sure you treat your daughters and sons the same way?

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Are you sure you treat your daughters and sons the same way?

An exercise I've introduced in workshops asks parents to discuss and list ways in which we can encourage our teens to combine the positive aspects of both traditional gender stereotypes. I like to emphasize the small, subtle ways in which gender biases can be reinforced. I doubt many parents spend much time discussing gender stereotypes with their daughters and sons; these can nonetheless be communicated by facets of everyday life that, while sometimes seeming trivial in isolation, have a cumulative effect on how young people think and act. A last point I make is that, even when parents truly want their children to be free of gender biases, their own past experiences and enduring habits may unintentionally lead them to reinforce the stereotypes.

Over the years I've compiled a checklist based on the parents' responses. As a parent, I've found the list a useful way to remind myself of the need to pay close attention to how we relate to our own children.

1. Is the distribution of chores and responsibilities free of bias? If boys can operate a lawnmower there's no reason why they couldn't learn to be in charge of a washer and dryer, and vice versa for girls. Cooking, dishes, putting out the garbage, taking care of younger siblings, and cleaning are other examples of activities that should provide equal opportunity for resistance and complaint.

2. When there are two parents in the home, are chores and responsibilities also free of bias? This doesn't mean all tasks should be divided equally between parents. I've never had any desire to appeal Kathy's ruling that I'm not permitted in the laundry room, but she knows better than to mess with my kitchen.

3. If you could see a videotape of your family in the community, would there be any signs that leadership is assigned to the father? Who drives the car and pumps the gas; who places the order or pays the bill in a restaurant?

4. Are boys encouraged to participate in activities that foster cooperation and nonaggressive competition? I'm not hinting at a ban on the forms of competitive sport that require physical force, such as hockey and football; what I'd advocate, however, is that we also steer them in the direction of equally challenging activities that don't require this type of aggression -- for example, swimming, baseball, cycling, and track and field.

5. Are girls encouraged to participate in competitive team activities? Girls are more likely to be directed toward forms of individual competition like figure skating and gymnastics. Team sports such as hockey or soccer can provide opportunities to learn how to combine cooperation and competitiveness.

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Excerpted from Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young: Surviving a New Generation of Teenagers by Dr. Peter Marshall, with a foreward by Barbara Coloroso. Copyright 2007 by Dr. Peter Marshall. Excerpted with permission by Whitecap Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publishers.

6. Do you argue constructively and safely with your spouse? (If your marriage has remained in a state of perpetual bliss and you've never so much as considered exchanging a cross word, could you pretend to have an argument just for the children's sake?) Use disputes and differences of opinion as opportunities for children to learn that conflict can lead to resolving matters in a way that doesn't involve one gender dominating and controlling the other.

7. Do you communicate expectations regarding school work that are based on ability, not gender? Not all students can achieve at the same level and everyone has areas of relative strength and weakness, but gender itself doesn't have to be a significant factor.

8. Although day-to-day experiences are probably more influential than abstract discussions, do you try to stimulate the occasional debate on gender issues? It can be interesting to find out the extent to which teenagers feel there are real differences in ability or appropriate roles. It can be even more interesting to challenge their views and assumptions -- remembering, of course, to listen carefully to their opinions without interrupting daughters any more than sons.

9. Is it likely your children believe that, in addition to sharing household tasks, you view their upbringing as a joint responsibility? Are both parents as equally involved in their lives as schedules permit? Is it always one parent who takes them shopping, helps them with homework, goes to school interviews and open houses, exercises discipline, and takes care of doctors' appointments? Single mothers obviously have much less opportunity to demonstrate that child-rearing can be shared, but they can include this area in discussions with their children. Asking their teenage sons what type of father they'd like to be if they decide to have a family at least introduces the idea that the question "what do you want to do when you grow up?" doesn't refer only to employment outside the home.

10. Do you discuss employment options in a way that cuts across traditional gender lines? By the time our children reach their teens we've often acquired definite ideas about their strengths and weaknesses. This awareness can prompt discussion about areas they might want to explore as possible career choices. But are your suggestions about careers based on their abilities or have they been determined partially by what you consider to be masculine or feminine occupations?

I have no desire to take the spontaneity out of family life. It would be tedious, oppressive, and somewhat absurd to maintain a schedule of whose turn it is to drive the car or insist that your son be allowed to join the local synchronized swimming team while his sister dons a football uniform. But the attitudes we communicate in our day-to-day interactions with our children do make a difference. The way in which we relate to the opposite gender and our approach to raising our daughters and sons affords us an opportunity to counteract the limitations of traditional stereotypes.

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Excerpted from Now I Know Why Tigers Eat Their Young: Surviving a New Generation of Teenagers by Dr. Peter Marshall, with a foreward by Barbara Coloroso. Copyright 2007 by Dr. Peter Marshall. Excerpted with permission by Whitecap Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced except with permission in writing from the publishers.

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Are you sure you treat your daughters and sons the same way?

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