Gender Roles and Early Childhood

Gender Roles in Early Childhood Quentin Brackenridge Child, Family, Society November 15, 2010 Children learn what it means to be a boy or girl at a very early age. Identifying gender and its roles in early childhood is a vital moment in the human development. In many societies, families set different standards and expectations of what their children are to do in life. One factor that plays an important role in gender identity is a child’s exposure to the definition of what a female versus a male is. Another factor is the parents’ upbringing of the child and family traditions.

As children grow and develop, the gender stereotypes they are exposed to at home are reinforced by other elements in their environment and are thus perpetuated throughout childhood and on into adolescence (Martin, Wood & Little, 1990). Children are very gullible to almost everything they hear or see during early childhood. It is almost impossible for a child to grow to adulthood without experiencing some type of gender bias. Gender roles can be defined as the public image of being a male or female that a person presents to others. Therefore it is a stated opinion of what society defines a man or woman’s role to be.

The information that surrounds the child and which is internalized comes to the child within the family arena through parent-child interactions, role modeling, reinforcement for desired behaviors, and parental approval or disapproval (Santrock, 1994). When children began to experience the world that consists of their friends, school, and extracurricular activities, their ideas and beliefs are formed differently. The mass media has a huge impact on determining the roles of men and women. In early childhood, most kids are glued to television for almost most of the day. This can be a disadvantage to the development of the gender roles.

Especially when some television shows depict what a woman should do versus what a man should do. Through the media, more reinforcement is present in regards to acceptance, appropriate behavior in early childhood. Children learn gender roles and stereotypes of behavior. In most cases, the woman is to stay home with the children, clean and cook, while the man is to work majority of the day to provide for the family. In today’s society, this has almost totally flipped the opposite way. Most women are taking care of their families while working full time jobs in most cases.

As children continue to develop, all of these “roles” and stereotypes began to set in their mindset and become a “norm” for them to perform. A child’s earliest exposure to what it means to be male or female comes from parents (Laurer & Lauer, 1994; Santrock, 1994; Kaplan 1991). From birth to early adolescents, many parents treat their sons and daughters differently. One study indicates that parents have differential expectations of sons and daughters as early as 24 hours after birth (Rubin, Provenzano, & Luria, 1974). Children in their early stages can tell the difference between boys and girls.

Children are also in doubt that these descriptions of male/female can change. Some of them also have problems understanding that males/females have different body parts and shapes. One study found that children at two and a half years of age use gender stereotypes in negotiating their world and are likely to generalize gender stereotypes to a variety of activities, objects, and occupations (Fagot, Leinbach, & O’Boyle, 1992; Cowan & Hoffman, 1986). Some children believe that being involved in certain sports will switch them into the other sex. This is because society has placed an image on what boys do versus what girls do.

In today’s society, there are an increase of girls doing what guys are “supposed” to do and vice- versa. As young children grow and mature in life, they gain a better understanding of gender identity. Gender roles have affected children in early childhood so much that it has become confusing to our generation today. Besides just defining gender, and what it means to be a boy or girl, children today are beginning to explore their sexuality. This has been a rising issue for the past two decades. Children are exploring the exciting interest of liking boys or girls. Homosexuality in early childhood has become a rising issue in society.

Boys and girls at an early age are developing a sense of identity. In doing so, children are trying to discover what makes them feel good and what they enjoy most in regards to selecting a sexual partner or even participating in certain activities. Situations like these tend to place children in a position of forcing decision making. As a result of this, many children choose to do things that satisfy them. These are all but some of the root reasons why there are homosexual men & women. Most parents prefer male children throughout the world (Steinbacher & Holmes in Bascow, 1992, p. 29). Most people who prefer a male child usually use some type of technology to select the sex of their child. There are many reasons why parents sometimes have selective preferences. Many parents will prefer a son to continue on the family last name while those who prefer a girl will want producing of more children to the family. Parents encourage their sons and daughters to participate in sex-typed activities, including doll playing and engaging in housekeeping activities for girls and playing with trucks and engaging in sports activities for boys (Eccles, Jacobs, & Harold, 1990).

In most cases, fathers enforce more of the gender roles than the mother. This is because the father has a more stern idea that sons do “tough” stuff and girls do “girly” stuff. Some studies have suggested that parent shaping as a socializing factor has little impact on a child’s sex role development (Lytton & Romney, 1991). Children develop their sense of identity and roles from society and the mass media. This shouldn’t affect who we are in society today but it does. Jobs, family and society expect for men and women to fulfill their roles they were taught in early childhood. In most cases, the stereotypes are fulfilled due to the high demand on society needs.

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