Children Learn Gender Norms, Stereotypes from Parents
When children grow up, their brains are like sponges. They absorb information very quickly and they are very prone to repeat what they see in their environments.
According to Age of Montessori, from birth to age three, children absorb information unconsciously or unknowingly. They learn to sit, stand, walk, use their hands and speak, without conscious effort. They develop their basic “faculties” or functions through mimicry.
The stages of development include:
- Infancy – Infants pick up on messages about gender that are based on adults’ appearances, activities and behaviors.
- 18 to 24 months – Children are starting to define gender not from their parents, but from their environment (at day care or interactions at home).
- Ages 3 to 4 – Children start to find a connection between what it means to be a ‘girl’ versus a ‘boy’.
- Ages 5 to 6 – Children are starting to listen to rules and the consequences of disobeying.
“We’re using [preferred gender pronouns] to refer to individuals at an early age. It’s built into our language that we can’t escape it. And of course it’s going to be something that children pick up on as their learning, as they’re developing so is the home environment is probably the first place and the strongest socializer to gendered understanding and gender identity,” Dr. Celine Thompson, assistant professor at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in the Clinical Psychology Program, said.
Numerous influences affect a child’s thoughts and development, but the home is at the top of the list. In a 2017 Pew Research study, most adults feel that parents should encourage their kids to play or participate in activities that are identified with the opposite gender.
- Exposing them to various types of feminine and masculine toys and activities and to counter-stereotypic models.
- Creating play environments well-suited for either boys or girls.
- Letting young children explore other roles in society.
While children are absorbing information so quickly, they are also observing how their parents or guardians relate to gender norms, gender identity and gender roles. Pew Research found that women are more likely to say breaking gender norms is a positive approach when raising children than men. “Large majorities of women (80 percent) and men (72 percent) say it’s a good thing to steer girls toward boy-oriented toys and activities” and “71 percent of women but only 56 percent of men say it’s a good thing for parents to encourage boys to play with toys or engage in activities usually associated with girls,” the study found.
“A major pro to raising a gender-neutral baby is that you will be allowing your child to develop without the artificially created limitations that society has placed around gender. As human beings, we crave to make life simpler and new information easier to digest. So we naturally want to establish categories, or boxes, that everything needs to fit into.” Israel Martinez, a licensed clinical social worker, in Montclair New Jersey, said in an article on parenting.
By Hailey McDonough