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Gender Stereotypes and Parenting (page 2)

By — National Association for Gifted Children
Updated on Dec 8, 2010

A Study at the University of Virginia

These understandings led a group of us at the University of Virginia to investigate the effects of parents’ beliefs about their children’s abilities on the way gifted students viewed themselves in the areas of math, science, humanities (for example, visual art, foreign language, writing, and philosophy), and social sciences.

About 500 5th to 11th grade students and their parents responded to questions about their beliefs of the students’ academic abilities. We found that parents’ beliefs were very much related to their children’s beliefs about their abilities, particularly for math. We also found that both parents and their children viewed the students’ abilities along gender-stereotypic lines.

Specifically, we found that parents viewed their sons as more capable in math and science, and their daughters as more capable in the humanities. Considering the apparent influence that parents and children have on each other’s perceptions of students’ abilities, we expected that children would view themselves in a similar pattern. Instead we found that boys and girls had equally high perceptions of their abilities in all academic areas except for humanities, where girls had more positive perceptions of their abilities than did boys.

What we can learn from this study is that, fortunately, our children are less stereotypic than their parents are when it comes to gender and academic ability. Even though the math and science fields are still dominated by men, the future looks bright because our daughters feel equal to their male classmates in math and science. However, our sons continue to lack confidence in their abilities within the humanities. In addition, the results from this study suggest that parents are still viewing their boys as better in math and science, and their girls as better in humanities, and may be steering their children toward careers according to these gender stereotypes. As a society, we have worked very hard to encourage girls to believe that they may achieve in traditionally male domains, but it appears that we may have left the boys to languish in the belief that they are inferior in the language arts and that drama, poetry, dance, music, and philosophy are female domains.

Suggestions for Parents

As parents, it is important to remember that the ideals of genderequality apply to both genders. Research shows that children who have androgynous views of careers are more likely to select careers that fit their likes and dislikes, rather than stereotypes of what is appropriate for men and women. As parents who want happy children who will one day become successful, satisfied adults, we should remind our children that they can be whoever they want to be. We should seek out examples of people who defy gender stereotypes. Take your children to a female doctor with a male nurse. Introduce your children to a female architect or engineer. Take your children to a ballet with male and female performers. Read books with your children about female mechanics, male violinists, and female philosophers.

We should remember that we have a critical role in the development of our children’s self-concepts, interests, and career goals. As such, it is important that we cultivate open lines of communication with our children. Just as we talk with our children about staying away from drugs and taking responsibility for our actions, we should also talk to them about careers and the world of work. Discuss your career with your children and around your children. This helps children, from a very young age, understand that employment makes up a major portion of adult life and, ideally, employment should be enjoyable and fulfilling. Introduce your children to people in a variety of careers, and encourage them to think about how their educational choices (such as advanced math or honors-level English) may influence their career choices. For example, courses in advanced math will prepare your student for an array for career options, such as engineering or computer science, that may not seem possible without such experiences. Similarly, more rigorous English courses help students build confidence with written communication, a skill that is critical in almost any occupational field. When your child shows a passion for something, such as public speaking, take a moment to discuss careers in which public speaking is an important skill. Most importantly, consider your own behavior and beliefs, and be alert to opportunities to change them. These simple steps can encourage your child to keep doors open for many possibilities in life, unfettered by gender stereotypes.

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