Cathy from Nurture Store asked me whether we should parent boys and girls differently. In a perfect world, I think there would be very few differences in terms of how we should parent boys and girls. As I wrote in my post on the Bias Against Boys:
Are boys are girls really that different?
There are two camps when it comes to gender differences. There are those that insist that the differences between boys and girls are biologically hard-wired. And there are those that insist that the differences are learned. Lawrence Cohen, author of Playful Parenting, summarizes existing research on the subject by saying that while inborn differences do exist, they are quite small but they are then nurtured and exacerbated by the way we treat girls or boys. The small difference that does exist is that boys are slightly more likely to seek out power and girls slightly more likely to seek out connection. And then society takes over and reinforces these differences rather than minimizing them. Generally, despite being a girl, I think I have tended more to seek out power than connection. But becoming a mother changed that and I have become very nurturing with my kids. I believe that each human being has the capacity to be powerful and connected and I challenge parents to help their children, both boys and girls, become confident and caring individuals.
So boys and girls are not that different. But then enter society. From the colour of the nursery, to the choice of toys and activities, to the types of emotions that are considered acceptable, society treats boys and girls differently. I am not aware of any society or culture that treats girls and boys the same. So to answer the question, I think unless you live in the woods, cut off from society, and homeschool your children, you do need to parent boys and girls differently.
We need to teach our girls:
- That there is more to life than meeting your prince
- That big rigs, trains, dump trucks, and fire engines are pretty cool
- That boys are not dumb
- That no one is allowed to hit them ever
- That they can play hockey, box, and ski jump (even if the Olympics doesn't think so)
- That they can be political and business leaders
- That math, engineering, science and information technology are great careers
- To not let anyone tell them to cover up or strip down
- That their health issues are important, even if research and care for them is underfunded
- To say no
We need to teach our boys:
- That it is okay to cry and it is good to express your emotions
- That they can like pretty colours, flowers, sunsets, and cute furry animals
- That girls are not sissies
- That violence is not an acceptable way to resolve disputes
- That women and girls are people, not objects
- That they can be stay at home fathers
- That they can play with dolls
- That their health issues are important, even if society tells them that only the weak see a doctor when they are suffering
- To respect no
The lists could go on, I'm sure. So yes, I think we need to parent boys and girls differently to counteract the negative messages that society sends them. But more than that, I think we need to parent each child as an individual. We need to look at their personality, their strengths, their weaknesses, and the way that society impacts them, and then parent accordingly. We need to consider what will help each child to be happy and meet its potential as a human being.
Image credit: Jason Pratt on flickr