Yes, I know men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but … boys and girls? I think they benefit from a lot of the same things. Especially the messages they get from their parents; clearly, males and females are not the same, but I think it is a good thing for them to hear positive messages about the other gender, beginning at ages wherein they aren’t even really sure of the difference. It’s never too early to start.
Some of the things we historically tell girls (‘You’re so cute.’ ‘You’re so sweet.’ ‘You don’t need to worry about that complicated math problem. Here, come and learn how to cook.’ ) focus on surface features and less on cognitive abilities and skills. At the same time, we are telling boys to be less emotional, and to be strong. Okay, parental messages definitely changing, and ‘gender neutral’ is more and more of a thing, but we still don’t always use the same message for both genders. Boys are ‘good’ at math, engineering, and mechanics. Girls are ‘good’ at counseling, cooking, and sewing. Wait, what?! Really? Time to mix it up, friends. Time to let our kids hear positive messages about what it takes to be a good human, and leave the gender-biased messaging out of it.
A couple of thoughts on what ALL kids need to hear from their big people.
Say nice things. And mean them. Tell other people, too. Everyone likes to hear nice things about themselves. Big people and little people alike, we all benefit from hearing something we did well, or about a positive quality we have. I’m not saying that you should list off vacuous comments about surface qualities; focus on character traits, effort or contributions and make it meaningful.
Value brains. For all things. Being smart, getting good grades, knowing how to finish something, knowing the answers, having suggestions or ideas for a fix, … just knowing things. All good, all applaudable, and so much more important than how a person looks or what they wear. Brains. It’s good stuff.
Insecurities are okay, but not about the surface stuff. Because, remember, surface stuff really doesn’t matter. Talk to your kids about embracing your inner masculine and feminine qualities – regardless of gender. Shame happens. Everyone feels it, and everyone suffers from it. Guys, it’s okay to talk about feelings and fear and emotions. Ladies, it’s okay to embrace your inner mathematician. Okay, I know that’s stereotypical but … stereotypes exist for a reason; there is a tiny grain of overly-simplified truth running along in there. How about we break those stereotypes and, instead, focus on good human skills. Humans are vulnerable, caring, intelligent and savvy. Help your kids learn and practice those skills, my friends, and they will go a long way.
Dig below the skin. People are like onions; we have layers upon layers, and every single one uncovers a new and amazing thing. People are not just about their looks. Women are not just sex objects. Men are not just jocks. Every single person has redeeming qualities. Make the effort to find them; it will be worth your while.
Teach your kids that disagreeing is okay. Especially if you do it right. We are not all created equally; therefore we do not all hold the same opinions. And differing opinions is what gives us the color in life. If we were all alike, thought alike, wanted the same things, etc, where would the fun be in that? Wouldn’t that be boring? But just like your opinion – based on your experiences, your values, your preferences, your dreams – is not necessarily mine, it does not make it wrong, either.
R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Not just for women, not just for adults. Respect your friends, respect your peers, respect privacy, respect opinions. Learning how to have consideration for others is the same as learning any other skill. As little people, we learn it from watching our favorite big people practice it, and then as we grow we start emulating and owning. Practice makes perfect. Respecting others also includes understanding things like ‘No’ means ‘no’, and that being a friend sometimes means doing hard things like stopping a friend from doing something mean or dangerous.
Talk about the hard topics that affect both males and females: Sex and sexuality. Bullying. Pregnancy. Sexuality. Pornography. These are hard topics and there are no ‘boy’ topics or ‘girl’ topics. Boys/men should be as familiar with the issues that women are concerned about as much as girls/women should be with issues that are considered to be ‘male’. Sure sure, age appropriateness is definitely a factor, but fact is, healthy adult relationships are built on skills that kids learn when they are young. Isn’t it better to brace these topics yourself as a parent rather than waiting until the 5th grade health teacher attempts to explain things? Wouldn’t you rather make sure your kids are learning everything they need to learn? Wouldn’t you rather your kid comes to you with questions instead of googling what they are curious about or (potentially worse) asking their friends?
Finally: Be who you are, and be the best at it. Don’t play a role that is prescribed for you. Follow your heart, your brain, your instincts. Remember that just as you don’t want to be shoved into a cookie cutter role, neither do others. You know, maybe there is one role we should all work to assume: a good human. I am doing my very best to raise three more good humans.