Monday, 2 September 2013

BE GENDER NEUTRAL. Some ways to teach your children how to respect elders and be gender neutrals

We need to remember that today’s children are tomorrow’s adults, and a good grounding will groom them as responsible youth. In the wake of the recent extreme sexual harassment cases against women, such as rape, it becomes more important to sensitize your child towards gender-based atrocities and develop a mindset that will not favor such acts. Gender sensitization among kids can be consciously practiced to bring them up in a gender-neutral environment.“Gender is a very important facet of our identity. It should be tackled in a sensitive manner and given attention as it is essential in building healthy relationships,” says Dr. Preeti Singh Senior Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Psychotherapist, Paras Hospitals.

As the child grows, she starts to associate herself with a certain set of things. The home environment will influence her and she will imbibe the thought processes of her immediate family. An environment that fosters respect for women will go a long way.

Children, who witness their parents differentiating between them and a sibling of different sex, hold onto the memory for long. They might also begin to behave in similar ways believing it is right.  So it important for kids to be have gender neutral influences.   “The feedback and encouragement that children receive from their teachers and parents also educate them about the acceptability of their behaviors,” says Dr Samir Parikh, Director, Mental Health & Behavioral Science, Fortis Healthcare in Mumbai.

Encourage your child to be compassionate, irrespective of the gender.
Stereotypical Role models:
“Families are often based on very strong gender roles. By observing the varied roles played by parents, and identifying with the same sex parent, children come to understand gender characteristics, gender roles and gendered expectations. In other words, what it means to be a boy or a girl,” Dr. Parikh explains.

Parents also often distribute tasks according to gender. This should be avoided. Why should only boys run errands or bring out the garbage, whereas a girl is told to clean the kitchen table or tidy up the room.

Dr Singh says, “On the basis of early experiences one develops gender schemes which are cognitive structures used to organize information about male and female genders. Researchers have established that gender roles are influenced by parents. Expectations from children are called differential expectations and the rewards or encouragements are referred as differential reinforcement. Children identify and imitate their parents.”

They grow believing that this is how society works. But you, as parents, should be supportive enough to break these stereotypes.
Media influences:
All media, that the child is exposed to, plays an important role in shaping his/her outlook. Books, television shows and cartoons mould the child’s outlook and expectations. Most media influences are stereotypical which cast an impression on young minds. There are no rules that claim that for boys must read Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew is reserved for girls. These are just social norms followed for generations. Do not judge your child based on pre-conceived notions and social stigmas. Make her understand that it’s ok to be different and pursue dreams that do not match the description of her favourite comic or movie. Being a boy or girl has nothing to do with what she must do and what she can do.

Keep an eye on what your child chooses to watch on television. Objectification of women on screen is a bad influence on your little one. Items numbers, vulgar songs and obscene shows will create a bad image on their minds. There will be scenarios when you won’t be able constantly monitor, so it is best to instil in them as sense of respect for the opposite sex.
Expressing Emotions:
Dr. Anmol Annadate, paediatrician and child psychologist, emphasises that these gender biases can cause emotional weakness in children. “Boys who cry are labelled as sissies, whereas a girl who indulges in tough activities will be referred to as a tom boy; this differentiation does not allow a child to express his real emotions.”

Power, strength, domination, rage et al, are qualities that are very male centric whereas love, nurture, warmth, care and submissiveness are attributed to a girl. These build associations in the minds of little kids and it can be so extreme that they can me led to believe that violent acts like rape and domination are justified. It is important to establish positive role models for your children. Encourage girls to be independent and avoid learned helplessness. Boys should be taught to be gentle and caring. This will help them treat women with respect and not as objects of gratification.
Your little ones will now enter a new world where they will meet more minds like theirs. It is important that they are in the right company. Teachers are often good role models but if teachers differentiate between their students, it could be harmful for the kid’s morale.  Kids should be encouraged to play all kind of sports, irrespective of their gender. Who says boys can’t dance and girls can’t play football! Schools play an important role in establishing gender sensitivity, especially as all schools are now becoming co-ed educational centres.

Gender equality should be inculcated in the day-to-day practices of schools and moral traditions should be followed. Modified poems and stories that break stereotypes is also a solution that many schools and educational institutes have begun to adopt.

Dr. Gorav Gupta, Psychiatrist, Tulasi healthcare, says, “Kids need to be educated about sexual relationships. It is important that they understand that intimacy is not the only form of emotion or acceptance.”

As children grow older, their friends begin to influence them. What they wear, watch and speak comes from varied sources. So if your daughter has only girlfriends she is bound to be all girly. Knowing the opposite sex is important to get a better perspective on communication and grasping individual capabilities. Encouraging friendships between both sexes is a good idea. It gives them a sense of equality when they realise that they are no different from the opposite sex.

“Incidences like rape are not gender-specific but person-specific. This is one thing that children need to be taught so that they don’t generalise situations. The attitude and thinking of a person makes a difference” says, Dr. Gupta.

An all-round approach is important. One should understand that girls need to be made self sufficient but not anti-men. Tolerance towards the opposite sex is important, after all not all men are criminals and not all women are clingy.

Children should be taught to freely voice their opinions and share their fears, so that they don’t hide their true feelings. Discussing incidences and latest news updates will open their minds to the outer world and break their bubble, making them more aware of their surroundings. The understanding that the physical and emotional changes in their bodies are a good thing is important. They should be proud of their bodies and not ashamed.

“Since we do not have formal sex education in our schools as yet, it is vital that parents talk to their children about incidences like rape and make them aware of what is inappropriate behaviour,” adds Dr. Gupta. Bad experiences shouldn’t guide the future:

Dr. Gupta concludes, “There are times when children draw blanket judgments on the basis of past experiences and influences. This may affect their present and future relationships. Sometimes children, who have been sexually abused or have friends who have been abuse victims, grow into individuals with personality problems. This could make negative individuals who have wrong impressions giving rise to more incidences of rape.”

Keep a check on your child’s movement and try to talk freely. Understand her problems and help her overcome her fears. Children are very sensitive to your reactions and you should keep a check on yourself while responding to your child’s sex and gender related queries. 

Yourself being a human being, teach your siblings to be a good human being rather than being a good women or a good men.

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