When it comes to gender, science has got a poor track record. Across the centuries there has been a consistent tendency for scientists to come to big conclusions about the differences between men and women, boys and girls, based on pretty flimsy evidence. And usually these have been conclusions which conveniently justify existing inequalities and the power status quo.
Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: the real science behind sex differences sets out to systematically challenge and dismantle this neuroscientific sexism that uses skewed science to prove that women are inherently more suited to caring roles and men to action and objective decision-making. But the brilliance of the book is that she does it, not through ideology but by unpicking centuries of flawed scientific methods and unconscious bias. Taking on the scientists at their own game. Continue reading →
You might not want to hear this. If you have a child aged 11-16 years, it is highly likely they have already viewed pornography online. The majority of that age group have watched porn. Almost all of them saw it before their 14th birthday. We’re not talking about soft-focus, women in provocative lingerie poses. It’s likely to have been graphic and possibly aggressive. Talking to teenagers about porn might be awkward, but it is essential for their wellbeing that parents do it.
The average age that boys first see porn is 11 years old. And with children spending more and more time unsupervised online, that’s getting younger each year. Many 8-year-olds report having seen explicit imagery online (accidentally or otherwise). Children can be shocked and confused by what they see but often won’t tell an adult about it for fear of reprisals.
In the face of patchy sex education provision, many teens turn to porn to learn about sex and explore their sexuality. Problems can arise if they think what they are seeing online is realistic or that they should be copying that behaviour. Pornography gives a very distorted view of sex, bodies and relationships and often depicts apparently non-consensual or aggressive acts. Parents talking to teenagers about porn can help them put it in perspective. Continue reading →
Take a look at any school playground and you will see that often boys and girls play differently. How do they differ? What are the implications for their child development? What does it mean for how parents raise girls and boys?
Of late, my most important conversations happen in the bath. Sometimes I find a magic window in my busy household and enjoy 20 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, immersed in Epsom salts, lavender oil and bicarbonate of soda. This combination is supposed to release toxins. I have no idea if this actually works. I emerge from the water, wrinkled as a prune. Happy as clam. Totally reinvigorated.
On other occasions, my ‘alone time’ seems to attract more company than one would think possible. My daughters, if not otherwise distracted, will seek me out and share my bath time in more ways than one. My youngest can disrobe startlingly quickly (this is in amusing contrast to the sloth-like pace at which she gets dressed in school uniform every week day morning, especially when we are running disastrously late). She is so silent and adept at this practise that the first I am aware of my bath time interruptus is her ninja like descent. Tom Daly would be stunned at the lack of splash. A sudden slippery seal pup squealing her delight at surprising mummy. I love these times. Top and tailed in our too small tub, and fashioning foamy hairstyles with gravity defying aplomb. We also have some very serious chats.
Today’s discussion was all about Daddy. And competition. And how much it sucks to lose. Continue reading →
“Is it a boy or a girl?” is one of the first questions we ask about a new baby. But is there a hardwired biological difference between boys’ and girls’ behaviour or is it all a question of how society pigeonholes them? How important is gender in child development? How do parents’ attitudes towards gender affect children?
Little girls often have a bit of a thing about princesses. Which can be a problem if your aim is to raise your daughter to believe she can be anything she wants to be (rather than encouraging her to sit around looking pretty and helpless until rescued by a handsome prince). But fairy tale princesses don’t have to be pathetic, it all depends on the story.
Here is my selection of books for 2-6 year olds that feature sassy princesses, with attitude and intelligence, perfect for empowering your little girls.
Is it possible to raise girls and boys in a gender neutral way without the influence of gender stereotypes? What can parents do to counter gender bias in children’s lives? Here are a few thoughts on why gender neutral parenting is doomed to fail but why we should all be trying to do it anyway.
Lots of parenting websites assume – either explicitly or implicitly – that their readers are women. There are some really good websites (such as Family Lives) that strive to be gender-neutral and offer advice that all parents will find helpful. But there is definitely a really important place for parenting advice written by dads, for dads.
The best dad sites build a sense of community without dumbing down or stereotyping. Some offer concrete, practical advice, whilst others offer a humorous perspective to help get you through tough times. Here is my round up of the best parenting websites for dads. Continue reading →
Lots of parents find talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships difficult. But not talking about those topics can send out a powerful message. Feeling that certain bits of their body are taboo can leave children unable to negotiate issues around intimacy – or even just seek medical help – when they are adults. More than half of young women in the UK avoid seeing their GP about sexual or gynaecological concerns and two-thirds of 18-24 year olds say they would be too embarrassed to use the word ‘vagina’ when talking to a doctor.
For young people, being able to talk about their bodies and express their wishes around intimacy is a key component in staying healthy and safe. It is essential for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy – both of which have lifelong and potentially life-limiting consequences. In the worst case scenario, it is the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cervical cancer and testicular cancer strike young and have a much higher survival rate if they are caught early. Half of the young women who say they are reluctant to visit a doctor about intimate issues say it is because of fear of a physical examination. But a quarter of them say it is simply because they would not know which words to use. Continue reading →
Lots of the characteristics that we associate with maturity are related to the brain’s frontal lobes. This part of the brain governs our higher executive functions such as being able to switch between tasks, weighing things up and planning ahead. The frontal lobes are not fully developed until early adulthood (around 25 years old) – which goes some way to explaining why teenagers can look so mature on the outside but make such bad decisions.
There is quite a bit of evidence that girls’ frontal lobes tend to develop faster than boys’. This might explain the truism that girls mature earlier and might also be one factor in why teenage girls do better at GCSEs than boys. Being better at task planning, time management and self-organisation is a real advantage when it comes to studying.
But, while we are waiting for our teens’ brains to catch up and get with the programme, there is a lot parents can do to provide external structures and tools for teaching teens self-organisation skills (regardless of whether they are girls or boys).
The day my mother left us, my father decided to get a dog. It seemed like a straightforward swap to me. We went out to buy a border collie and when we came back my mother was gone. I was ten years old.
Swapping my mother for a puppy had many advantages. In one stroke I was liberated from all the petty restrictions of supervised domestic order. Bedtimes and hygiene went out of the window, replaced by endless summer days topped with coke and crisps in pub gardens. And without a live-in mother our family activities could no longer be divided along gender lines – no more being left behind to dig a stupid fish pond while the men went off to watch the Test Match! My world shifted shape. Continue reading →
A quick glance through the shelves of the children’s section in the library is enough to know that the majority of male figures in children’s stories adhere firmly to gender stereotypes: dads work, boys are brave and none of them do the housework. Not much help if one of your parenting aims is rebalancing gender bias and raising empathetic boys!
So I set out to find some picture books that might provide younger children with a few counter-cultural images of men as caring, emotional, gentle and patient.
This is my selection – I can’t guarantee that you will succeed in raising empathetic boys just by reading these books together (that’s a lifelong endeavour) but at least you will be exposing your young boys to the idea that there is more than a one-size-fits-all approach to being male. (Got a girl? Try these Books for raising confident girls!) Continue reading →
In terms of child development, the differences between boys and girls are far outweighed by their similarities. All children basically have the same needs regardless of their gender. And yet “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” is almost always the first piece of information we give (or ask for) about a newborn baby. Socially, gender is a very important fact.
There are different schools of thought as to whether gender differences are hardwired into babies’ brains or are a product of social conditioning. In reality, it’s almost impossible to disentangle whether differences between boys and girls are biological or social because, right from birth, adults treat boys and girls differently. Continue reading →