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Monday, April 28th, 2014
If you’re expecting a little one anytime soon, you may be longing for the day you’ll be able to answer that pressing question: “Is it a boy or a girl?” But how significant is your baby’s gender, anyway? According to Christia Spears Brown, PhD, author of the newly-released Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, whether you’re having a little Ethan or a little Emma shouldn’t influence much. And it’s not about being gender neutral, she says. “It’s making gender irrelevant to how I raise my child.” Read on to hear what Brown has to say about many of the gender-related issues she explores in her book.
Gender isn’t just relevant to parents of older kids. As you write, “One of the very first questions a parent-to-be is asked is ‘What are you having?’” What do you hope parents of babies will take away from your book?
“I think this book is best targeted to parents of babies. I want parents to recognize that gender, for the life of their child, won’t predict very much about what their child acts like or thinks like or is able to do. Parents have to think, ‘How can I foster the traits, skills and abilities of my child in which gender is just irrelevant?’
We want our kids to grow up to be nurturing and empathetic, for example. All toys teach kids something. What toys foster nurturing and empathy? Baby dolls, for example. All babies should have baby dolls and things that they can practice caretaking for. We know that boys and girls both like baby dolls until they’re about 2 years old. There’s not a gender difference in that.”
Can you explain the consequences of categorizing children by gender?
Every time we say, ‘What a smart girl you are,’ ‘What a good boy’—that teaches kids from a very early age that gender is the most important thing about them. Kids think, ‘If this is so important, I better figure out what a good girl or a good boy is supposed to do,’ so then kids create the stereotypes for themselves. The other part is for parents to recognize that our language matters. The times that we label gender, the ways that we constantly color-code, all that does matter—even if we are trying our best to be really egalitarian and to foster gender fairness, those really subtle messages tell kids these are the things that you need to pay attention to. That starts right from the beginning. It’s impossible to avoid pink and blue worlds. But to reduce it as much as possible—and it’s not about being anti-pink, there’s this big anti-pink movement, it seems—it’s more teaching kids that you don’t need to be categorized by gender.”
You note that your daughters’ relatives often gift stereotypical presents that they assume young girls would enjoy. How should parents address instances such as these in which others’ views on gender don’t align with their own?
“I think there’s ways to do it that are respectful. I very subtly correct the stereotypes that I hear them say. I do correct it with my kids in private, I’ll just typically say, ‘They kind of forget that boys and girls don’t really differ this way,’ or, I sometimes say, also for older folks, ‘Back when she was young, girls didn’t roughhouse as much as they do now, but now we know that girls roughhouse just as much as boys do.’ I do make sure that I don’t let that stuff go uncommented on, but I also want to be really respectful of the people in our lives. When it comes to the toys that well-meaning relatives give, if I find them really stereotypical, I donate them. I try to walk that fine line of being respectful and recognizing that people of a different time have different attitudes about gender than I do, and it’s not really my job to change them. I try to in subtle ways, but my job is to really just help my kids navigate the stereotypes they encounter. I want them to have a stereotype language, to be able to recognize stereotypes when they hear them. I can’t protect them from all the stereotypes they’re going to encounter, but I can give them tools to recognize them.”
Are your kids ever upset when they receive a toy that you’d prefer to give away?
“I explain why I don’t like it. You know, ‘These clothes really aren’t appropriate for a kid to play with. Let’s give this to someone else, because I just don’t think this is the best toy for us to have in our house.’ They seem to be ok with it. The reality is, kids have plenty of toys. They have plenty of other things; this one toy isn’t going to make or break the birthday or Christmas.”
How do you work to address stereotypes with your kids?
“My 3-year-old had a big princess movement for awhile, which I’m not real fond of. I didn’t want to just ban princesses, because I felt like that wasn’t quite fair, so I was asking her, ‘Well, why do you like princesses so much?,’ and she said it’s because they wear sparkly, pretty outfits. I had to reflect on my own attitudes about it and I thought, well, really what I don’t like about princesses is that they’re passive and they wait for the boy to come and save them. I don’t mind the sparkly, pretty outfit. There’s nothing wrong with that. So I suggested, well, what if we don’t keep the princesses but get other dolls that are also sparkly and wearing nice outfits. Wonder Woman came to mind. She has a tiara, she has a very sparkly belt, very sparkly bracelets, but yet she has lots of powers, and she’s very strong, she comes and saves the day.”
So what do you think of Frozen?
“I think the princesses are fine in it. What’s frustrating as the parent of a daughter is it’s really hard to find movies that feature girls in which finding love is not a primary theme. Typically the movies are either about finding love or about pushing against finding love. Brave was a movie, which, again, I liked, but it’s about how she doesn’t want to find a boyfriend. In Frozen, there’s that boyfriend, true love theme. It ends up where the true love is the sister, which is a great take-home message. I would love a movie where a girl goes on an adventure and there’s nothing love-related, because boys get those movies where boys just go do interesting things. My philosophy is talk to them about it. We went to see Frozen, and I talked to [my then 9-year-old] and I said, ‘I really wish there were movies about girls where it wasn’t always about boys and who they were in love with. I think you do lots of cool stuff, and I think a movie about girls doing lots of cool stuff would be great to go see.’ Research shows that the best way to help kids battle stereotypes is to recognize them. Knowledge is power, when you recognize them, you can fight them, which I find is much better than just trying to censor and edit out the world.”
How can parents impart these beliefs on their children without going to the extreme of raising a child as a gender neutral being?
“From the moment they’re born, focus on their individual strengths. Keep your focus on ‘what’s my individual kid like’—it’s not about making a political point, it’s not about trying to make them gender neutral—it’s what are my individual child’s strengths, and how can I foster those without consideration of gender. Within that, you’ll have natural variation. Some girls are going to be more feminine and caretaking and passive and verbal, whereas some girls aren’t. Within each of your kids, there’s going to be natural variation, so if you happen to have a very passive, somewhat sensitive girl, that’s just who she is, and that should be fostered and valued. But recognize that not all girls are going to be that way. Some girls are much more rough-and-tumble and don’t like to sit still. There’s nothing inherently wrong with feminine toys or male toys. It’s figuring out which is the best for my kid and what are they interested in. That’s tricky for parents of babies, because babies come out not being able to tell you what they’re interested in. For babies, try to provide both. Have trucks and cars and blocks and dolls and stuffed animals so that kids can naturally gravitate toward whatever they’re specifically interested in.”
You write that “mothers talk more, interact more, and are more sensitive to the smiles of girl babies than boy babies. Baby boys are handled more roughly than baby girls” and these biases carry over as kids get older in terms of how parents respond to their children’s emotions. How can parents work not fall into these traps?
“Again, it’s that idea of knowledge is power. There are very few actual differences between boys and girls from birth. There are no differences in how they express emotion. There are no differences in their temperament beyond some kind of impulse control. There are very few differences in terms of activity level. There are no differences in terms of how much they like to look at people and how social they are. Part of it is knowing what the facts are and then being able to check your own preconceived notions. No parent tries to raise a stereotypical child. The goal for parents is really just check their own preconceived ideas. When you think, ‘Oh, I’m having a boy,’ what do you think that means? Well the reality is, it shouldn’t really mean anything. It should be irrelevant, because knowing that they’re a boy shouldn’t predict anything about their behavior or interests or preferences. But if you assume that that’s going to predict what your child will be like, then clearly you have some assumptions. Research shows us that those aren’t accurate assumptions, because there aren’t reliable differences between boys and girls. You’ve got to own what your own assumptions are and do your best to keep them in check. That’s tough for all of us; I have to do the same thing. When we live in this culture, we’ve all been influenced by stereotypes, and we all endorse them, at least implicitly. The only way we know from research to reduce our own stereotypes is to be aware of them.”
How do genetics determine your baby’s gender? Watch below to learn about this amazing process.
What career is your child destined for? Find out.
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Monday, March 10th, 2014
After inciting much-needed conversation on workplace feminism with her book, Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and mother of two, opens up about her own family life and gives us the inside scoop on her new Ban Bossy public-service campaign—which starts by asking parents and kids alike to stop using the word “bossy” to describe strong girls.
What can we do to help ban the word “bossy?”
People often see gender inequality as a problem too big to fix on their own, but I think cultural shifts happen by small things we do each day. To help ban the word “bossy,” tell your girls:
- Speak Up. Raise your hand in class and express yourself.
- Believe in Yourself. Trust that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
- Stop Apologizing. There’s no need to say that you’re sorry for making a decision.
- Practice. Remember, leadership is a muscle that can be worked like any other.
How did becoming a mother influence you to start the Ban Bossy public-service campaign?
Becoming a parent was a big part of my journey to Lean In and Ban Bossy. As a parent, you recognize the inequalities your child may encounter. I remember reading a study done with moms of babies that really stuck with me. When asked to evaluate their children’s crawling abilities, the mothers systematically underestimated the girls’ abilities and overestimated the boys’. There was no factual evidence to support the mothers’ gender bias. Both sexes actually performed the same when tested. It made me realize that I was likely underestimating my daughter without even realizing it, which was a big eye-opener for me. Lean In is for the workplace, but also for the home. It has to be achieved at home.
How will the Ban Bossy campaign help eradicate gender inequality?
I think people look at big problems like gender issues and think, “This is a big deal. How can I change this myself?” At Lean In, we believe so deeply that these cultural problems change by the small things each of us do: The changes we make by paying attention to the little everyday stuff do not have a small impact. Major cultural shifts happen with small changes.
How do you model some of the Ban Bossy techniques in your own home?
Many parents still, to this day, assign household chores like dishes and laundry to their girls, while boys mow the lawn and take out the trash. In my home, the entire family does the dishes together: mom, dad, son, and daughter work as a team to clean up.
What a great lesson for both your daughter and son!
Even though it is a small thing, the extra steps are so important. A couple of weeks ago, some friends of ours invited a few families to their home for dinner. After we finished eating, I noticed that the women, myself included, headed to the kitchen to clean up while the men settled down in front of the TV. Our children were watching this. We have to model equality in order for our children to believe it exists for them.
How do you think we can encourage our male partners to adopt this philosophy?
Telling men that equality is good for women isn’t enough; however, I do think that a lot of fathers already realize the challenges their daughters face. So many men have told me they want their daughters to have the same opportunities they did. The number-one thing a man can do as a father is be involved. No matter the family’s income level, children with more active fathers have better outcomes, both emotionally and financially.
If we need to ban the word “bossy” for girls, what’s a word you’d like to see used more often to describe girls?
It’s interesting; I was talking to my 9-year-old niece about the word “bossy” when we were preparing to launch the program. I asked, “What do you think about the word ‘bossy?’ Is it for boys or for girls?” She said bossy is for girls; the word they use for boys is leader. She is only 9 and already intuitively understands what is going on. It’s not that I want to see that taken away from boys; I just want the word “leader” to be applied equally to girls, and for the same behaviors.
How do you handle this with your daughter?
Last night she was telling me about a playdate with one of her friends where they played teacher. When I asked her to tell me about the game, and who played what role, she said, ‘She is always the teacher, and I am always the student.’ I asked her if she would like to be the teacher sometime. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘but she always wants to be the teacher.’ I coached her on ways she could talk to her friend about taking turns. I want her to learn how to be vocal, say how she feels, and speak up for herself. It’s my job to encourage her to go after what she wants.
What message do you hope your daughter remembers as she grows up?
“You can do anything.’ One of the catalysts to Lean In was a conversation with my daughter on President’s Day one year. We played a song about presidents, and my daughter asked me why the presidents were all boys. After a pause, I explained that although they have been, she could be the next president. I want her to know she has the opportunity to do anything she wants.”
Do you think we praise girls too often on their appearance? “We focus way too much on how girls look. A girl walks in from school, and we tell her how pretty she looks today. We don’t do that with boys. It’s not that we can’t tell our daughters they are beautiful; we just need to praise them for attributes they can actually control, too, and do it more often.
What specific media examples have a positive message for girls today?
My kids and I just watched Frozen and it was a feminist home run! When I went in to watch the movie, I didn’t know the plot. Look what happens! She gets engaged knowing the guy for a few hours and that obviously turns out to be a bad idea. She is saved in the end by the love for her sister. It is a great plotline with strong, independent female characters. My son and his friends love it too. I am so proud of Disney for this movie. It is a feminist fairy tale.
What TV shows feature female characters in a positive light?
Doc McStuffins is everything you want girls to see on TV. She’s assertive, a leader, and a diverse character. We have progressed so far in how we portray female characters on children’s TV shows. Think back to how Lucy was portrayed in Peanuts. It wasn’t positive. We have already come such a long way, but there’s still quite a way to go.
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Monday, November 12th, 2012
Study Tentatively Links Flu in Pregnancy and Autism
Kids whose mothers had the flu while pregnant were slightly more likely to be diagnosed with “infantile autism” before age three in a new study. But the children’s overall risk for the developmental disorder was not higher than that of other kids. (via Reuters)
Next-Day Discharge After C-Section May Be Okay: Study
Some women who deliver their babies by cesarean section may be able to check out of the hospital the next day without raising their risk of problems, according to a new study. (via Reuters)
Children’s Headaches Rarely Linked to Vision Problems
If your child gets recurring headaches and you think they might need glasses, you may be mistaken – a new study says children’s headaches are rarely triggered by vision problems. (via CNN)
Early Stress May Sensitize Girls’ Brains for Later Anxiety
High levels of family stress in infancy are linked to differences in everyday brain function and anxiety in teenage girls, according to new results of a long-running population study. (via ScienceDaily)
Cell Phone Use In Schools A Possibility With ‘Bring Your Own Technology’ Initiative
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As schools try to add more technology during a time when they are receiving less funding, many will begin to consider allowing students to use devices they already own. That will include cellphones and electronic tablets like iPads. (via Huffington Post)
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Thursday, August 9th, 2012
Clinical Trial Is Favorable for a Prenatal Gene Test
A new method of prenatal testing that can detect more genetic problems in a fetus than ever before could be headed toward wider use after encouraging results from a clinical trial, researchers say. The new technique surpassed standard testing in detecting chromosomal abnormalities, the study found. (via NY Times)
Fertility Treatments May Put Women At Risk for PTSD Symptoms, Study Suggests
Women who undergo fertility treatments may find the situation so distressing that they develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a new study says. In the study, close to 50 percent of participants met the official criteria for PTSD, meaning they could be diagnosed with the condition. (via MSNBC)
Diabetes and the Obesity Paradox
Type 2 diabetes, a condition widely thought of as a disease of the overweight and sedentary, also develops in people who aren’t overweight—and it may be more deadly. Scientists found those who were of normal weight around the time of their diagnoses were twice as likely to die within the same period. (via NY Times)
Boys Appear to Be More Vulnerable Than Girls to the Insecticide Chlorpyrifos
A new study found, at age 7, boys had greater difficulty working memory, a key component of IQ, than girls with similar prenatal exposure to the insecticide chlorpyrifos. Having nurturing parents improved working memory, especially in boys, though it didn’t lessen the negative effects of exposure. (via Science Daily)
Air Pollution Linked to Stillbirth Risk
Air pollution has been linked to a number of breathing problems, mainly in developing countries, and now a new preliminary study looking at pollution levels in New Jersey has found an increased risk of stillbirths among women exposed to certain pollutants. (via NBC News)
Stressed People Use Different Strategies and Brain Regions
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Researchers have found stressed and non-stressed people use different brain regions and different strategies when learning. Non-stressed individuals applied a deliberate learning strategy, while stressed subjects relied more on their gut feeling. (via Science Daily)
air pollution, boys, Brain Function, child obesity, diabetes, Fertility, fertility treatments, genetics, girls, memory, Noelia de la Cruz, Parents Daily News Roundup, prenatal, stillbirth, stress | Categories:
Tuesday, July 17th, 2012
Assault: Children With Disabilities Are More Likely to Be Victims of Violence, Analysis Shows
Children with disabilities are almost four times more likely to be victims of violence than other children, according to a new report commissioned by the World Health Organization. The report, published in The Lancet on Thursday, found that disabled children were 3.6 times more likely to be physically assaulted and 2.9 times more likely to be sexually assaulted. (via NY Times)
Girls as Young as 6 Want to be ‘Sexy,’ Study Says
Most girls as young as 6 are already beginning to think of themselves as sex objects, according to a new study of elementary school-age kids in the Midwest. The study, published online July 6 in the journal Sex Roles, also identified factors that protect girls from objectifying themselves. (via MSNBC)
Women Beat Men on IQ Tests For First Time
New research is providing an answer to the age-old, delicate question: who is smarter, men or women? A new study has come down on the feminine side of that argument, finding that women now score higher on IQ tests than men. (via ABC News)
Tooth Fillings Made With BPA Tied to Behavior Issues
Kids who get dental fillings made using BPA are more likely to have behavior and emotional problems a few years later, according to a new study. (via Fox News)
Cord Blood Stem Cells Restore Toddler’s Hearing
Madeleine, 2, became the first child to undergo an experimental hearing loss treatment through an FDA-approved trial at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center that infused stem cells from her own banked cord blood into her damaged inner ear. Within the last six months, Connor says she’s seen a dramatic improvement in Madeleine’s ability to hear. (via Yahoo!)
Study Links Child Abuse to Home Foreclosures
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Researchers found just under a 1 percent increase in the number of general physical abuse cases reported at 38 pediatric hospitals every year between 2000 and 2009 and a more than 3 percent rise in the number of traumatic brain injuries seen in babies. (via MSNBC)
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Friday, July 13th, 2012
Obese Kids as Bright as Thinner Peers
Obesity is not to blame for poor educational performance, according to early findings from research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Researchers suggest that future research should focus on other determinants of poor educational outcomes. (via Science Daily)
Lawsuit Tries to Block New Arizona Abortion Law
A group of doctors and women’s rights advocates challenged Arizona’s new abortion limits in a federal lawsuit on Thursday. The Law, set to take effect on August 2, prohibits abortions once 20 weeks have passed since a woman’s last menstrual period. (via NY Times)
Doctors Use Hormones More Often Than They Prescribe Them
Doctors may be more willing to use hormone replacement therapy, or recommend it to their wives, than to prescribe it to their patients, a study of German gynecologists suggests. Nearly all were willing to recommend HRT for hot flashes, but not as often for other uses. (via MSNBC)
Childhood Trauma Linked to Adult Smoking for Girls
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New research published in Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy explains how adverse childhood experiences can be tied up with adult smoking patterns, especially for women. Researchers suggest treatment and strategies to stop smoking need to take into account the psychological effects of childhood trauma. (via Science Daily)
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