Book is now available


My new book, is Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How to Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes, is now available pretty much everywhere (even the Kindle version). I have been pleased with the reviews it has gotten so far.  If you read it, I would love to hear your thoughts. On Thursday, April 24, I will be discussing the book on Good Day Chicago at 9:45am.

 

book cover

 

Publisher’s Weekly

Brown, associate professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky and a Psychology Today blogger, has researched the impact of gender stereotypes on children and teens. Here, she presents her argument to parents, asserting that the differences between boys and girls are far less pronounced than the media and some other authors contend (most notably, Michael Gurian, whose Gurian Institute trains educators to approach the learning styles of boys and girls quite differently). Wading through and interpreting the gender studies, Brown concludes that the way boys and girls learn, play, verbalize, and think is far more similar than dissimilar, though some differences do exist; for instance, boys are more physically aggressive and their brains develop at a slightly slower pace
than girls’. The mother of two girls, Brown urges parents to beware of studies that are flawed and overstated, and to place greater focus on the individual child. As Brown also explores her own feelings as a mother, she is not without humor, sharing for instance, a boy/girl pizza birthday party ambushed by the pizza maker’s unsolicited gender-based comments (“Boys always like pepperoni”). Though her anecdotes and observations can be amusing, Brown’s message is simultaneously a somber and far-reaching commentary on the ways that gender stereotyping needlessly limits and labels children. Agent: Linda Konner, Linda Konner Literary Agency. (Apr.)

 

Library Journal Review

Brown (developmental psychology, Univ. of Kentucky; Psychology Today, blogger at Beyond Pink and Blue), a leading specialist on the impact of gender stereotypes, offers a review of the latest research combined with a guide to raising children free of the negative influence of gender expectations and limitations. She argues that children are “free to flourish” when gender is deemphasized and covers both the neuroscience and cultural influences of sex in language that is accessible and at times even humorous. Beyond the issues of “pink and blue,” her assertions have a scientific rather than feminist flavor and will enlighten those even of the “boys will be boys” school. ­VERDICT Much quality literature has been published over the last few years on gender studies, and this title juxtaposes other works such as Leonard Sax’s Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need To Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. For all libraries serving parents.

 

Getting to the Bottom of the Princess Obsession

As someone who studies gender stereotypes in children, and as someone who has an intense dislike for the princess movement, it has been a little frustrating that my youngest daughter always talks about wanting to be a princess. Her exposure is pretty limited, at least compared to other American preschool girls. I don’t allow Disney Princess movies, although she has seen them at other people’s houses. She has seen the occasional Sophia The First (which I don’t love, but I don’t hate), but spends a lot more time with Jake and the Neverland Pirates and Mickey Mouse.  Regardless, she has developed a deep love for princesses.

Recently, I tried to get to the bottom of it. I asked her “Why?” she loved princesses. Her answer “Their sparkly clothes.” This rationale was reinforced when she told her older sister that the princess from Brave wasn’t a real princess because “her clothes were too dark.” Of course, the one princess I like, she rejects for being goth.

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Then I had to face facts. I may not like princesses because they are helpless, do nothing for themselves, and only wait for a boy to show up and save them, but she likes them because they are sparkly. Perhaps we could reach a compromise. I am not a sparkly girl, but there is nothing wrong with liking sparkle. That isn’t my battle. I tried to think about (a) a female, (b) who wears sparkle, and (c) is powerful. My own childhood came back to me. WONDER WOMAN! As a kid, I wore Wonder Woman Underoos ALL THE TIME (If you are too young for that, I am sorry you missed out on the fun). I watched her cartoons, I watched the TV show. She has sparkle bracelets, and even a tiara. And she can kick ass.

I began to google images of Wonder Woman and show them to Grace. Lo and behold, she was hooked. Now I am showing her old episodes from SuperFriends. She loves Wonder Woman and her lasso and invisible jet. My next stop is to order her a WW costume to dress up for pretend play.

It may not be the perfect female role model. Marie Curie would be way cooler. But I am happy that she has found a sparkly girl to root for, one that actually does something worth rooting for.

Is Guns for Girls what gender equality really means?

I am always complaining about the lack of gender equality. It irritates me that I have to go into the boys’ aisles to find a tool set for my Maya or Grace. But, I find that this new trend toward gender equality is even more irritating. Now, not only can you buy Legos in pink and purple, but you can also buy a Nerf Gun in pink and purple.

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I don’t think this is the kind of equality so many of us want. First, it is still a “Girl” toy, obvious to anyone with the color and models on the box. It still strongly signals to children that only girls should play with this toy (and conversely, that only boys should play with the other Nerf guns).

The toy may be the same, but the segregation remains.

Second, I just don’t want my kids (whether they be boys or girls) to play with guns. I know that makes me sound prudish, but guns are just not an okay toy in a Sandy Hook world. Guns ultimately kill people (even if you think people kill people, it is still people holding guns). Nowadays, those guns are often being wielded by children. Why should I want my daughter to play with a toy that simulates killing? I wouldn’t want my sons to do that.  Regardless of people’s opinions about gun control, it seems this type of play and “fun” should be a shrinking trend, not a growing one.

Why don’t we see more “prosocial” toys cross the gender aisle? (God forbid we actually we get rid of the gender aisles). I would love to see dolls marketed to boys. Boys could definitely use more practice care-taking and being nurturing. Or make tool sets available in the girls’ section. I want my daughters to be competent with tools. These are important skills all children should develop. Firing a gun, less so.

The argument with your spouse isn’t worth it

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A new study shows that marital conflict is a significant source of physiological stress for children. When kids witness their parents argue, their body’s stress response is affected (specifically, their parasympathetic nervous system). This makes it harder for them to pay attention, solve problems, and learn new information.

Take home message: Kids who witness their parents arguing are physically affected by the conflict. This limits their learning potential and cognitive abilities. This supports all of the other research showing how bad it is for kids to watch their parents fight.

 

My take: Too many parents say they are “staying together for the children.” More evidence that marital conflict is bad for kids. Based on research, divorce is much better than fighting parents. In other words, if you are divorced, don’t feel so bad. Staying married if you fought a lot was much worse for your kids’ emotional and intellectual life. If you are married, be aware that your arguments are affecting your kids. Save the skirmish for after bedtime. And maybe “being right” isn’t so important after all.

(in journal Child Development)

Happy Wife, Happy Life isn’t so hard after all

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A new study in Journal of Family Issues highlights another way gender stereotypes screw us up. The researchers were looking at what predicted happy marriages (in straight couples). It seems having a wife who is happy with the marriage makes everyone happier. That old saying “happy wife, happy life” seems to be true for men. But what makes wives happier? Having  husbands who does chores with them, side-by-side. Liking cleaning the kitchen together, one rinses the dishes off and one loads the dishwasher kind of thing. Also, even more important than doing chores together, is having a husband who spends quality time with the kids. Things like reading a bedtime book or talking to them about their day.

It seems that doing those activities that are often relegated to women (housework and childcare) is the best way for men to have happier marriages. Plus, they get a clean house and close relationships with their kids to boot. A pretty good argument for ditching the idea of “women’s work”.

 

Accidental Parenting

I am writing the last two chapters of my book (that is due at the publishers May 1). Here is my favorite excerpt from today:

“The power of parenting is in the little moments, usually the moments we don’t mean to be “parenting.” In my own opinion, this is what makes parenting so hard. It would be easy if kids eagerly approached you on your best day, the days you felt rested and relaxed, saying “Mom, Dad, teach me something important so I can live a happy and productive life.” They would soak up your jewels of wisdom. Then they would ignore all the times you were overwhelmed and snapped at your husband for no reason, or the time you yelled at the driver who cut you off on the highway, or the time you were overly anxious when your boss came over, or the time you commented about feeling fat in your jeans in front of your mid-puberty daughter. It would be much easier if kids only paid attention when you wore your “parenting hat” and not when your own worse traits popped up. But, alas, they don’t. They pay attention to it all­ – the intentional and the accidental. ”

It makes me wish someone would invent a parenting hat I could wear. When I am wearing it, the kids would pay attention. When I take it off, they should ignore me. This would ensure they would pay attention when I wanted them to (which would be impressive by itself), but also they would ignore me when I wanted to steal candy from the candy jar or have a general end-of-week meltdown.

The power of dad

A new study in Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that teen girls whose parents “get in their business” are more likely to delay having sex compared to teen girls whose parents “mind their own business.”  This adds to the piles of research showing that parents who monitor and nose their way into their teens’ lives end up with kids who avoid some really risky behavior (like having sex at 14 and getting drunk at 15).

But what is one of the biggest predictors of young teen girls delaying having sex? Having a dad around. This fact has been shown again and again. Dads being present really helps girls make some wiser decisions (on the flip side, a girl having sex at 14 is anything BUT a wise decision).  Maybe having a dad around helps with the whole monitoring thing. One more person present to nose into the teen’s personal life. Maybe it’s something about getting positive male attention that helps girls not seek it elsewhere. It is hard to know exactly what dads are bringing to the table, but it is something.

What I always find interesting, in these studies showing the importance of a dad being present, is that it doesn’t much matter what exactly the dad does. Maybe he is cranky when the house gets loud, or he is strict, or he is lenient, or he likes to complain about everyone leaving the lights on all the time. It doesn’t matter. Just being there, being engaged, paying attention, doing the dirty work. That’s what seems to matter.

Past research has shown that dads who do the nitty-gritty work when their kids are babies – the diapers, the baths, the 2am feedings – have children who are more securely attached to them.  They grow into teens who know they can depend on their dads when things go wrong. They also know dad is there to help them make better decisions, and to come down on them when they make bad decisions. Both actions help kids navigate the tricky waters of adolescence.    ​

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The bumper sticker I saw at day care today really does sum up research on fathers. Men who change diapers change the world.  The bumper sticker was probably referring to a broader point about gender equality. But a lot of world-changing also happens one kid at a time.  ​