As a nation, the United States has been in an ever-evolving process when it comes to human rights issues such as racism, sexism, and the subject of gender fluidity. While there has been progress made in terms of diversity, inclusivity, and the conceptualization of gender roles, the evidence of our past missteps is still palpable today.
To affect lasting change, it is essential to start with the younger generations, rebuilding worldviews and biases as they grow into adulthood. Here are five ways parents and guardians can combat limiting gender stereotypes in their children’s lives.
Acknowledge that a child may be LGBTQ+ – While most children’s gender identity aligns with the sex and gender they are assigned at birth, there is still a significant percentage of young people who identify as transgender, or who are nonbinary.
Nationwide, more than 11 percent of high school students say they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or are questioning their sexuality, and young LGBTQ+ people are coming out to their communities and families much earlier than previous generations.
Showing acceptance of LGBTQ+ identities within your household is associated with greater mental and physical health as well as protection against depression, suicide, and substance abuse.
Be aware of gendered marketing – Children learn important social and emotional skills through play, so providing them with a variety of toys that aren’t limited by gender-stereotyped marketing can help them develop in a more well-rounded way.
Counterstereotyping reverses familiar gender stereotypes and is a powerful strategy to keep your children from forming a limited understanding of gender roles. As parents or guardians, we can provide dolls to our sons and toy cars to our daughters, letting them know that fathers can be nurturing to their babies and that women can be successful mechanics, too.
Disrupt gender stereotypes at home – Parents and guardians are the first role models children have for the way gender is performed. They say actions speak louder than words, and children are more likely to reject traditional gender norms when their parents embody fairness and equality within the home.
Parents can model a nongendered way of keeping the house by assigning different chores each day, making sure both boys and girls do the dishes and take out the garbage.
Use gender-neutral language – Implementing gender-neutral pronouns and inclusive language can reduce gender bias and increase positive regard for women and LGBTQ+ people. Instead of referring to “girl parts” or “boy parts”, we can use anatomical language to maintain neutrality.
Replacing “moms and dads” with “parents and caregivers” is also a way of including same-sex and nonbinary parents, as well as single parents and other important guardians and role models in your child’s life.
Encourage mixed-gender play – Research shows that children who are close friends with children of other genders have a more positive outlook toward their friends’ gender and gender fluidity.
Instead of segregating children by gender, whether it be at an official capacity with single-sex schools, or in a more casual way such as separating girls from boys when playing sports, parents can use these situations to create opportunities for kids to interact in all-gender activities.