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This column will deal with the rather controversial issues that swirl around the concept of establishing reasonable and appropriate gender identities in children. My thoughts are based on my years of experience working with families and children. I have witnessed first hand the damage that has been done to many of our children by overly zealous parents and significant others.  

Since these concepts are typically very firmly established in people's minds, some readers will agree with these suggestions – others will vehemently oppose them.

To be sure, there are many differences between little boys and little girls. Many appear to be genetically built in. However, most of the psychological aspects can be imposed upon and shaped to a great extent. Society begins making theses distinctions even before birth where the newborns room and clothing colors are carefully chosen – blue or pink of course. This is a harmless diversion.  

As the child develops, choices of clothing are usually appropriate.

Following are some of the more basic topics (there are many) that I have found can be problematic for the child over the long run;

Toys: Sex-bias should be eliminated whenever possible. Follow the child's needs and wants in this area. There is nothing wrong if a little girl wants a toy truck to play with – or a little boy wants a doll! Such silly restrictions help lead to adult women that cannot change a tire or fathers that are helpless around babies. In a more subtle way, this can also begin the process of gently restricting career choices for both sexes.  

Fortunately we are beginning to see this fade away as it is not rare now to see such things as "firewomen", female race car drivers, male nurses and male secretaries, etc. There is really no good reason other than stereotypes that we call dolls for boys "action figures" – silly isn't it!

Sports: This is a hot topic for me. While I can certainly appreciate and encourage the physical exercise, skill development, and the development of teamwork concepts – this is one of the areas that can often border on actual abuse. Well meaning dads are usually the prime movers here although moms can be not far behind. Little boys are usually the victims.  

One of the first warning signs is when the sport becomes all-consuming. Children are sometimes placed in dangerous situations where injuries are common. I have seen a child crying with his shoulder dislocated as dad screams "Get back out there – act like a man! Stop that crying! What are you – some kind of little girl!" Nice going dad – what a jerk!  

Typically this will continue all of the way through high school. This is great way to raise non-compassionate aggressive adult males. I am never surprised when I see on the news another distraught parent physically attacking the referee at a ball game. Great example for the child! Stop using your child to live out your own fantasies.

 Coffee table discussions can also be very revealing. You have probably rarely heard the father of a little boy say, "Billy got all A's in math this year – I am so proud of him!" More than likely you have heard how he did on "the team" recently.  

It is all too common for education and learning to become of a minor and secondary importance.  

It is interesting sometimes to listen to the phrasing. Hearing that "you better get those grades up or they will throw you off the team" sends all of the wrong messages about what is important. Face it dad – it should be all about getting a good education, not the sport!

Boy/ Girl relationships: As a child grows and begins to interact with the opposite sex, a great deal of appropriate learning takes place. Please – let the child be a child for a while without imposing adult expectations.  

The hair on the back of my neck usually stands up when I hear an adult ask a very young child, "Do you have a girlfriend (or boy friend) yet? No? Why not?" Give the child a break – they will get to that stage soon enough.  

Parents: Remember that you are always the model of what "should be' to your child. Mom – you are always the example of what a women should be. Dad – you are always the example of what a man should be.  

If you are acting like a savage – guess how your child will be when he/she grows up? That's right, just like you.  

Our parents and grandparents knew this very well. Sayings like, "the acorn never falls far from the tree" or "like father like son" recognize this basic fact. For example, it is a well know fact in my field that abusive men usually had an abusive father and women that are in an abusive relationship usually had a mother that was abused. That is one reason that we thought it was genetic for so long and ran in families. There are exceptions of course.

Hopefully, this article has gotten you thinking a little bit about these things. That's the first step. Society's pressures are bad enough. Let's let our children grow up to be all that they can – or want – to be.

**James is a Masters level Child Psychologist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor who has worked with distressed families for 40 years. He is the author of the Seamus the Sheltie series of children's books that were designed to assist parents in discussing difficult issues with younger children. Both books have received multiple national awards from parenting organizations. Mr. Beverly has written and published articles on parenting in a variety of media.




Member Comments

    • 0 votes vote up vote up

      Selfsagacity wrote Aug 6, 2010
    • I don’t know if I agree. Children needs guidance and while we should not tell them it’s not appropriate to play with the normally seened as the opposite sex’s toys, we have to explain to them why certain toys are more suitable for them.
      As I see this world has changed and become so acceptance of many things- some bad, I also see a lot of confusion in young people. Their identity and gender identity.



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