A new study has looked into the effects that spring from enforcing gender stereotypes on kids—and gives us a picture of how dangerous they can be.

boy and girl
Credit: sanel.piva/Shutterstock

We live in a world that assigns pink clothes to girls and blue to boys. We see gendered ideals seeping through on clothing racks, toy shelves and even in our own family dynamics. In short, ingraining the idea of gender equality in our kids can be really, really hard.

But if recent research is any indication, it's even more important than we thought. A new study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health illuminates the universality of gender norms, and the dangers they carry with them. By observing both boys and girls in 15 countries, researchers were able to gain a greater understanding of how gender roles affect kids no matter where or how they live.

They questioned children aged 10 to 14 across all income levels (as well as their parents), and researchers were surprised to find that when it comes to gender expectations, there are more global similarities than differences.

The children were exposed to the expectation that when puberty strikes, girls become vulnerable and in need of protection, while boys become independent. Naturally, these stereotypes affect young girls in some truly dangerous ways. The study's team called out depression, exposure to violence and leaving school early as risks associated with this exposure.

But let's not underestimate how young boys may be harmed by these expectations: Violence, injuries, substance abuse and shorter than expected lifespan are all tied to these gender norms—one theory is that these stereotypes make young boys feel like they're invincible.

The researchers will continue to look at this topic to learn more, but for now, let's keep this research in mind. We all need to do more to neutralize these gender stereotypes....but clearly, that's easier said than done. It's not just about convincing our children that they're of equal worth whether they are boys or girls or gender non-conforming. It's also about shielding them from negative messages in the media, teachers who perpetuate old-school norms, other children, and countless other sources that may impose these expectations on them.

But, if this study tells us anything, it is that it's worth doing everything we can to deemphasize those outdated ideas.