It's nearly impossible for even the most conscientious of parents to truthfully claim that they don't treat their daughters any differently than they treat their sons. Parents may try their hardest to be fair and equal, but a lot of parenting habits are formed when parents themselves are children, and people often don't see how their styles can differ quite dramatically.
Coupled with these behaviors people have learned in the course of their own lives are the cultural and societal norms that infiltrate every aspect of parenting, even before the baby is born. Moms are sometimes nervous to find out they're having a boy rather than a girl because they feel they don't understand how boys think. Others are worried about having a girl because of all the pressure society places on a girl’s behavior and appearance.
While some biological needs of boys are different than those of girls and vice versa, scientists are finding that at the brain level, the differences are not as clear-cut as once thought, according to Science Magazine. Scientists can't tell from a brain scan if they're looking at a male or a female brain. A lot of the behaviors associated with boys or girls may be more influenced by social pressures than we realize. Here are some things moms do with their boys they should also do with their girls—plus a few they shouldn't.
20 Do: Let Them Rough ‘N’ Tumble
Time and again, we hear that boys are little balls of energy, that young men need physical activity and they should play outside, but girls—beginning at a young age—are not given the same encouragement to engage in physical play. Research has overwhelmingly shown a significant gap in the amount of physical activity in boys versus girls, as per a study by Rohan Telford et al. in PloS Journal by NCBI. Girls can benefit from physical play and activity in the exact same way that boys do. Often, subtle social cues relegate girls to calmer play or restrict play to indoor activities, to the detriment of their health.
19 Do: Give Science The Go-Ahead
Many schools have begun to focus on more science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) activities, but often, the gender disparity begins very early at home. STEM style toys are more often than not geared towards boys with only a token pink version for girls, despite young girls being as equally interested in STEM activities as boys when young, according to The Guardian. Parents have begun to advocate for more gender-inclusive toy styles and designs, but girls aren't born preferring pink toys over blue—these restrictive color cues are socially imposed and reinforced by manufacturers. By categorizing STEM toys by gender, we are actively discouraging women from entering STEM fields as adults.
18 Do: Seek Out Sports
Moms of boys encourage sports play for a variety of reasons, including the benefits of physical activity, learning team play, and developing their confidence and leadership skills. The same opportunities are not available to girls, according to Women's Sports Foundation. Girls are not given the same access, and parents often don't place the same emphasis on the importance of sports as they would for their sons. All the positive benefits of sports that boys can develop are there for girls also, but moms often find the resources for girls are less. Gender stereotypes and discrimination can also discourage parents, who in turn discourage their daughters—while simultaneously encouraging their sons.
17 Don’t: Miscue Messiness
Boys and girls need to get dirty. While the basics of hygiene like good hand washing, brushing the teeth, and bathing are important, too much emphasis on cleanliness is detrimental to a child's health, according to WebMD. Since we're socially conditioned to think it's okay for boys to be dirty but not girls, we may hold them to different hygiene standards from a very early age, but this isn't good for either boys or girls. Little boys and girls should get dirty regardless of gender for better autoimmune health down the road, as well as learning good social hygiene like hand washing to prevent disease spread.
16 Do: Move At The Speed Of Light
The assumption that boys are more active than girls begins very early in life and parenting styles reflect that gender bias in interesting ways. Parents are less likely to give boys teaching time than girls because it's assumed that boys are more active than girls, according to NPR. Researchers are beginning to point out that while many girls seem to be able to learn stillness sooner than boys, active learning benefits both boys and girls. Gender biases also come into play, as boys are allowed to be more active, while even very young girls are expected to learn more 'polite' and calm behavior.
15 Do: Go Loud And Proud
When boys get loud, shouting and talking excitedly, parents can often be seen shrugging and uttering that common phrase, “boys will be boys.” However, when girls shout, they are much more likely to be told to be quiet, according to the Huffington Post. Boys are often noisy and boisterous, and many parents have been socially ingrained to be more tolerant of this while simultaneously praising girls when they are quiet, obedient and submissive. Boys are given more airtime and interrupted less often, and the encouragement they get to find their voice and articulate their thoughts can be encouraged in girls also.
14 Do: Throw Caution To The Wind With Clothes
Boy colors versus girl colors was a design move to discourage hand-me-downs, according to the University of Southern California (USC). Manufacturers began to promote certain colors for boys and different colors for girls. Parents who first had a girl and then had a boy began to feel compelled to purchase a whole new set of baby clothing, lest the boy be misidentified as a girl by society and therefore experience gender confusion. Color-gender association is really that arbitrary, but it has nevertheless permeated every aspect of babyhood, from pacifiers to building blocks. Gender reinforcement using color in clothes equals increased profits for manufacturers.
13 Don’t: Ignore Aggression
The more diversity of emotions a child is able or allowed to feel, the less likely he is to struggle with aggressive behavior, according to Borelli et al. in the Journal Of Child And Family Studies. It's also vital that a boy has the tools to communicate his feelings with the knowledge that an effort is being made to understand him. If he is not able to successfully articulate his emotions, he is more likely to develop aggressive tendencies and engage in riskier behavior, potentially harming himself or others. Cultural conditioning often allows girls to be emotional in ways that boys are not, with sometimes terrible consequences.
12 Do: Go Outdoors
While researchers agree that all young children could benefit from increased outdoor play time, the numbers also show that boys are still more likely to get outdoor playtime than girls, according to Time. Deeply-held beliefs regarding socially acceptable styles of play for boys and girls may have contributed to this discrepancy. A number of factors may be keeping children inside more, such as a greater prevalence of technology in the home, as well as fears of dangerous crime. Boys are assumed to be more active than girls and are therefore sent outside more, but both boys and girls need free play to thrive.
11 Do: Dirty Jobs
Many moms love delicate, lacy baby dresses but would never dream of putting them on her baby boy. Little girls might be taught from very early on that they are not allowed to get dirty, even though boys will often be encouraged to do just the opposite, according to Cafe Mom. Perhaps if girls made as many mud pies as boys did they'd be less likely to develop autoimmune diseases like Lupus, which is far more likely to be diagnosed in women than in men. Scientists are discovering more and more evidence of a link between exposure to environmental microbes and allergens as children and a healthier immune system in adults.
10 Do: Keep Emergency Numbers On Speed Dial
Boys make up a higher percentage of emergency room visits—which has fit in neatly with the narrative that boys are just more rough and tumble than girls—but other factors are at play, according to Motherly. More boys than girls are born every year, and cultural assumptions about the types of activities that are acceptable for boys or girls can affect the types of injuries parents and medical professionals experience. Compounding the difficulty in interpreting the numbers is the common belief in many societies that boys should be tougher and learn to deal with pain, and therefore might not be treated properly for injuries. In reality, both boys and girls get injured and need equal opporunities to access quality healthcare.
9 Don’t: Ignore Bruises, Breaks, And Booboos
Risk-taking is actively discouraged in girls and definitely encouraged in boys, and this may lead to many more injuries, according to the Daily Breeze. Boys are often celebrated when they've broken an arm falling out of a tree or riding their bike at breakneck speed, but parents will chide girls who attempt the same activities. Minor injuries like cuts and bruises in boys are dismissed as unimportant by many parents, who sometimes even mock or shame a boy who cries or complains about a scrape. This dismissiveness of injury in children can affect their ability to make emotional connections in themselves and with others. On the flipside, parents sometimes provide excessive doting to injured daughters, without concern for how brothers will perceive it—or the daughter herself.
8 Do: Make Healthy Food Choices
Boys are less likely to be put on a diet by their parents. They are considered more active and energetic, and parents might be boggled by the amount of food a boy can put away, but they're more likely to go ahead and feed him while refusing a second helping to a girl, according to Refinery 29. The amount of food given throughout childhood doesn't seem to matter nearly as much as the quality and composition of the food. Healthier food choices in childhood encourage a better body image and a better relationship with food in both boys and girls. Supporting physical activity is also key to better physical health.
7 Do: Choose Clothes Made To Last
Girls often want to go outside, but parents more often than not find that outdoor play clothing choices in the girl's section are limited to nonexistent, as per US News. Compounding the subtle cues that occur every time a parent explores the 'other' section of clothes with their child is the reinforcement that girls just don't get as active as boys. Boys are encouraged to get out and participate in activities like fishing and hiking, and their clothing choices tend to reflect that. Girls ought to have the same options in clothing items while also being allowed to explore more color choices than pink and purple.
6 Do: Follow The Leader
What is prized in boys as leadership potential is often discouraged in girls as bossiness—and this continues into adulthood and the workplace, according to Glamour. Where boys and men are seen as assertive, girls and women are characterized as aggressive. Boys are often taught to restrain certain emotions like sadness, compassion and fear, while girls are taught not to show anger or passion. From an early age, boys are groomed to consider leadership their due, while girls are taught to cooperate with others. Moms can pass the leadership skills commonly taught to boys on to their daughters by identifying their own social biases.
5 Don’t: Shortchange Crying
Crying is a signal that a person is experiencing a sharp pain or deep emotion—and boys don't do it enough in this society. Girls are seen as such emotional creatures and far more delicate, so it's not abnormal for a girl to shed tears over a cut or sob during a sad movie scene, but boys and men are told that tough and strong guys don't shed tears, as per Reader's Digest. Not being able to cry is causing boys and men to actually develop stress-related illnesses. When they hear that “girls cry, boys don't,” they equate tears with weakness and learn to suppress important emotional cues. On the flip side, girls are told they're "too emotional" and treated as though they aren't as competent or serious-minded because of it. Adhering to these stereotypes hasn't gotten us anywhere yet.
4 Do: Encourage Confidence
Moms who have been taught to be critical of their own bodies may pass that criticism on to their daughters but not their sons. Issues of modesty are also often unevenly applied to girls versus boys. Boys are encouraged to be more active than girls and are less likely to be put on a diet. All the focus on the body and what's considered attractive or acceptable for boys or girls is having an impact on all kids, according to CNN. Girls are more likely to develop body image issues than boys, and it may be that boys are not asked to conform to certain physical attributes as much as girls are.
3 Do: Encourage Curiosity and learning
What may have been begun at home with mom unconsciously supporting a boy's inquisitiveness and suppressing a girl's curiosity is often exacerbated in the science classroom. Teachers are more likely to call on a boy to help demonstrate an experiment and are more likely to see his hand raised and give him a more extended explanation, according to the National Association For Research In Science Teaching (NARST). This phenomenon is usually unnoticed by the teacher and is perpetuated in group activities; it even happens with boys and girls in upper-level science courses. When equal time is given to boys and girls, both are engaged in the subject matter.
2 Do: Allow Her To Self-Dress
Boys from the late toddler stage on up often have far more autonomy in the clothes department than girls. Little boys come out with wild color combinations and odd pairings like long socks with shorts. Parents don't always give their little girls the freedom to come up with original pairings, but they should, according to Parents. Kids develop likes and dislikes for fabrics, how they're cut and fit and colors just like adults do. We often let our sons make seemingly silly matches but don't let our daughters, citing the need for them to look presentable. She might learn that the approval of others takes precedence over her own comfort.
1 Don’t: Discount Intellectual Interests
When researchers ask boys whether boys or girls are smarter, they notice the answer changes over time. Younger boys associate intelligence with boys and girls equally, but older boys place greater emphasis on intelligence and consider it a key trait—even above hard work or getting along well with others, according to Forbes. Girls, over time, appear to place greater emphasis on hard work as a key to success and are less likely to self-identify as intelligent than male peers. These biases can even follow men and women into the workplace. Boys who value hard work as much as intelligence are more likely to find long-term success. Likewise, girls who are taught that those opinions can only hold them back if they allow it will see much of the same success.
References: Science Magazine, PloS Journal NCBI, The Guardian, Women's Sports Foundation, NPR, Huffington Post, University Of Southern California, Time, Cafe Mom, Motherly, Refinery 29, US News, Glamour, CNN, National Association For Research In Science Teaching, WebMD ,Daily Breeze, Journal Of Child And Family Studies, Reader's Digest, Forbes, Parents