Examine the type of environment you are creating or reinforcing for young people.
I have a daughter who will be turning four in a few months. My daughter likes to color, play with dolls, and help me cook in the kitchen. She also likes to play with trucks, get dirty in the mud, and is becoming very interested in super heroes. In fact, last Halloween, when all of her girl friends were choosing ladybugs or princesses, she chose to be Spiderman. As a parent who is intentional about introducing her to toys, hobbies, and activities based on potential interest versus her gender, I thought I was succeeding in creating an environment where she could develop interests based on her personal preferences instead of social expectations. Last week, the following conversation occurred during our commute home after she had successfully sealed a plastic bag:
“Mommy, look what I did? I did it!”
“Oh, good job!”
“Mommy, am I smart?”
“Yes, you are very smart.”
“But I want to be pretty.”
“You can be both. You can be smart and pretty.”
“No. I don’t want to be smart. I want to be pretty.”
My heart sank. As a parent, I want my children to grow up with the freedom to become the person they want to be. I want my kids to be bold, to dream, and to work hard to reach those dreams. I knew at some point I would need to have conversations about the messages our society sends kids based on gender. I knew I would have to help them navigate that environment so that they could filter the messages and find their own identity. I didn’t know I needed to start those conversations before they turned four.
Young people look to the adults around them for guidance and reassurance. Spend the day having conversations with your peers, family, and friends about the type of environment you are creating or reinforcing for the young people in your circle. What types of messages are the youth in your life exposed to? We can demand the change.