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What are all of us taught while growing up? That blue is for boys, and pink is for girls, right? This is supposed to be conventional thinking. But, nowadays, some parents are opting to raise their child as gender-neutral. It is an unconventional approach, which is constantly under debate. If you have been thinking of going the same route with your own child, there a few things you should keep in mind. Let’s discuss gender-neutral parenting below, which may help you decide if this is indeed the approach you want to adopt for your child, or not.
What Is Gender-Neutral Parenting?
Gender-neutral parenting is when parents raise a child without forcing any preconceived gender norms upon them, and allow them to choose which one they would rather adopt for the rest of their lives. This allows the child not to be put into a box and grow up according to conventional gender rules. For example, parents would address the child as ‘Baby’ in their conversations and not ‘Boy’ or ‘Girl’, allow them to dress in what they want, whether it means boys wearing pink, or girls wearing blue, keep neutral room decor and toys, and in general avoid any kind of gender stereotyping. Some parents might even choose to hide the gender of their child from everyone except their closest family members.
Is It Healthy for Your Child?
This question really depends on the different mindsets of people. One viewpoint talks about how gender-neutral parenting is a major pro, as the child can grow up freely, without conforming to any of the man-made rules that society places around gender. Gender norms can make kids feel they need to force themselves to be something they are not, impeding their happiness and health. One parent says her 4-year-old son grew up wearing jeans and dresses, played with all types of toys, and had long hair. He told his parents that though he identifies as a boy, he still would want to wear girls’ clothes.
However, on the flip side, some experts say that if children are not raised as either a boy or a girl, they might end up feeling lost and confused about their own identity, and grow up without any clarity as to who they are.
Effects of Gender-Neutral Parenting on Children
The most common question is, what effect will gender-neutral parenting have on children? Let’s look at a few things to keep in mind:
1. Impact on Social Life
Strict gender-neutral parenting is virtually impossible, if your child goes to playschool or daycare. A gender-neutral child’s dress sense or playing style might attract awkward questions from his classmates or their parents, which in turn might cause issues for you and your child. It might even result in bullying or teasing from other kids.
2. Impact on Playtime
Gender-neutral parenting should not affect playtime, as parents would typically encourage their kids to play with a wide variety of toys, or let them choose whichever toy they want to play with.
3. Impact on Sexuality
Gender-neutral parenting has less effect on sexuality than you would think. Research shows that homosexuality is influenced higher by biology and genetics, than environment. In fact, 85% of gender-nonconforming children go on to become heterosexual adults.
Gender-Neutral Parenting Pros and Cons
What are the pros and cons of raising your child as gender-neutral?
- Gender-neutral kids are more creative, thanks to the freedom of expression and choice.
- Children who get to choose between ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ toys regardless of their gender have the ability to enhance their insights and interests.
- They also have the ability to have more interests and hobbies.
- Your child can be truly who they are, regardless of any restriction.
- Your child will become familiar with the interests of the opposite gender.
- Being gender-neutral can increase your child’s awareness of identity and self-esteem.
- Children who get the freedom of such choice early in life are more likely to have high self-confidence, and be leaders later in life.
- Gender-neutral children are more likely to be agents of gender equality, both in school and in their own cultures.
- Gender-neutral kids grow up with the ability to never have any bias or stereotype in any situation.
- Gender-neutral children do not feel any added pressure to make choices of which they are uncertain.
- If a child is raised without the concept of gender, they will become confused about their identity when they attend school and meet other kids.
- It will be challenging for parents to avoid all gender-specific pronouns at home like him, her, she, or he.
- There is no way of avoiding gender in the child’s future due to surrounding society, so giving them exposure early will help them decide who they are and what they want to be.
- Be careful not to slip and put your child into another ‘type’. They’re people, not ‘gender-neutral children’.
- You also have to be careful not to push gender-neutral parenting onto your child. If a boy likes only blue and sports, then it’s okay. Similarly, if your girl likes pink and princesses, that’s okay, too.
How to Raise a Gender-Neutral Child
Gender-neutral parenting psychology can be tricky. Here are a few science-backed tips:
1. Reduce the Importance of Gender
Don’t use the term gender-neutral, but help your kids be free of any gender restrictions. You can do this by removing labels on gender from your language. For example, replace ‘What a smart girl you are!’ with ‘What a smart kid you are!’.
2. Avoid the Pink and Blue Themes
Watch out for attributing gender stereotypes and any stressing of difference between boys and girls. Never associate pink with a girl and blue with a boy. This can change their thinking and behaviour to adapt to norms early on. You can get them gender-neutral clothes, and encourage them to wear neutral colours. However, if your child naturally gravitates towards either pink or blue, don’t discourage them. Teach them that all colours are equal, and they can choose whatever they like.
3. Encourage Girls and Boys to Play Together
It is vital for children to be comfortable playing with the opposite gender, as this will make them ready for future relationships at work, at home, and in school. You can enter your child in mixed-gender activities, sports, and playgroups.
4. Don’t Eliminate Gender Entirely
Your goal should not be to erase gender, but to encourage your child to look past gender norms, and pursue all interests, careers, and hobbies. By making sure their opportunities and choices are not restricted by gender, you can better emphasise how irrelevant gender is in society.
5. Introduce Them to Role Models
Expose your children to role models like male nurses, female engineers and mechanics, and so on. Your child will be encouraged if they learn about people who challenge gender stereotypes, and express themselves in a gender-fluid manner.
6. Focus on Your Kid As an Independent Individual
Studies show that there is no difference between a male brain and a female brain. Although both genders have biological differences, in other aspects, they have a mix of traits that are characteristic of both sexes. Hence, it is essential to focus on your child as a single human, rather than a gender-related boy or girl.
7. Teach Them That Being Different is Okay
It is important to teach and reassure your child that being gender-neutral might be slightly different to others, but is still completely okay, positive, and normal.
8. Encourage Free Expression in a Safe Space
Allow your child to explore and experiment in a safe environment, in activities like role play and dressing up. Support them in whatever choice they make. They may choose to express themselves in ways that are or aren’t characteristic of their biological gender. Let them keep their possibilities open.
9. Teach Them About Sexism
Help your children recognise stereotypes and biases, and how the society and world we live in has gender divisions. This will equip them better for the future, and help them that realise gender division is not due to the difference in ability, but due to a culture which is stereotypical.
10. Remember That Toys Have No Gender
Do not gender stereotype toys as boy toys and girl toys. This can affect your child in their psychological and physical development if you are raising them as gender-neutral. Let your child play with a wide variety of toys which are not segregated as being toys for boys or girls.
Most importantly, the decision to raise a gender-neutral child should not be to make the child a symbol of social change; it should be to give the child freedom to decide their own identity, free from any gender limitations.