Raising your child without enforcing gender stereotypes shouldn't be a radical notion, yet it is. Take, for example, the backlash Pink experienced after opening up about raising her kids in a gender-neutral household. Critics couldn't wrap their heads around ignoring culturally-enforced gender norms, claiming the decision would cause her children to need years of therapy. But research suggests the opposite is true: Here are just four studies that support raising your kid gender neutral and the benefits to their health.
Pink told The Mirror in an interview earlier this month that she and husband Carey Hart are bringing their two kids, 6-year-old Willow and 11-month-old Jameson, in a "label-less household." The reason, Pink said, is because the couple doesn't want their children to by "defined by their gender." The Beautiful Trauma singer told The Mirror,
We are a very label-less household. Last week Willow told me she is going to marry an African woman. I was like: ‘Great, can you teach me how to make African food?’ And she’s like: ‘Sure mama, and we are going to live with you while our house is getting ready.’
People become furious because of Pink's views on gender norms. But science supports her stance. Just read on to see how.
Breaking Gender Norms Is Crucial To Your Kid's Health
A large body of research has proven that, when you reinforce gender roles, you do damage to young girls and boys. But a global study published this year shows the depths to which enforcing gender stereotypes harm children. Researchers behind the Journal of Adolescent Health study found that youth subject to strict gender expectations are at an increased risk for mental and physical health problems during and after adolescence. Girls, for example, are at a higher risk for pregnancy, exposure to violence, child marriage, pregnancy, and leaving school early. Boys, on the other hand, are more likely to experience substance abuse, die by suicide, ad have a shorter life span, according to the study's findings.
Lead researcher Kristin Mmari, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told CNN,
Adolescent health risks are shaped by behaviors rooted in gender roles that can be well-established in kids by the time they are 10 or 11 years old. Yet we see billions of dollars around the world invested in adolescent health programs that don't kick in until they are 15, and by then, it's probably too late to make a big difference.
Kids Have More Opportunities When Raised Without Gender Norms
In July, VICE released a short documentary following one family in Sweden who's raising their two children without gender. The documentary takes a look at what gender expression means in Sweden, as well as the criticism over the country's gender neutrality stance. But research supports raising kids in a gender neutral environment: A study published in The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology in May found that kids enrolled in one Swedish gender-neutral preschool were less likely to gender-stereotype or gender-segregate. In turn, by ignoring culturally-enforced gender norms, those preschoolers have access to more opportunities, meaning they would experience more success as adults, according to the researchers.
But Gender Bias Hurts Their Future Successes
On the contrary, relying on gender bias can hurt students' chances at future success. A 2015 paper published by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research found that elementary school kids who experience gender bias will suffer academically, and later on, financially. In particular, teachers who favor male students have a positive impact on boys' achievements, but a negative effect on girls' schooling, according to the research. Girls, then, would be less likely than boys to enroll in advanced math and science courses in high school. The researchers suggest that the effect "is heterogeneous, being larger for children from families where the father is more educated than the mother and larger on girls from low socioeconomic background."
Affirming Gender Identities Leads To Better Mental Health Outcomes
A study published last year in Pediatrics found that youth who have socially transitioned experience better health outcomes than children who are unable to live as their authentic selves. Researchers from the University of Washington analyzed responses from transgender and cisgender youth, aged 3 to 12, and discovered little variance in depression or anxiety between the two groups. Particularly, depressive symptoms among transgender kids who are supported by family did not differ from the population average, although they did exhibit slightly higher levels of anxiety, according to the study's findings. Another study published this year in The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry came to a similar conclusion, finding that kids allowed to live authentically have low rates of depression and higher rates of positive self-worth. In other words: Affirming a child's gender identity only benefits their mental health.
It's, of course, a parent's choice whether or not to raise their children gender neutral. But scientific research shows that bucking gender norms will only benefit your kid's physical and mental health. Who can argue with that?
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