Media Advisory: Holidays and toys: Parenting in a gender-neutral age

As the season of gift-giving approaches, child psychology expert and Wake Forest professor Deborah Best shares her insights on recent trends and how moving away from gender stereotypes can benefit young children.

As the $22 billion toy industry starts to listen to parents’ concerns and stores like Target announce their removal of the distinction between boys’ and girls’ toys, the line between genders is becoming increasingly blurred. Best says this is a good thing.

“The idea of color-coding toys, blue for boys and pink for girls, is non-beneficial,” she says. “You want boys to learn to cook, clean their rooms and take care of themselves, and you want girls to learn to play sports, build things and engineer the world if they want to. Kids who violate gender norms are shied away from by their peers. Then we dump these notions of what’s for girls and what’s for boys on them—it’s not advantageous to either.”

Although children naturally gravitate to gender-specific toys, playing with other-gender toys may teach new skills. When it comes to kids and gender norms, Best, who has studied developmental psychology for more than 40 years, says if we continue to promote that some things are meant for girls and others are meant for boys, children won’t be willing to accept things not specified for their own gender.

“Children need exposure to ‘girl’ toys, ‘boy’ toys and gender-neutral toys to obtain experience that will encourage them to play across boundaries, to think creatively and to develop expanded skill sets that include new ways of looking at the world,” says Best.

If the shift away from gender distinctions with toys continues, Best says boys and girls will have more opportunities to learn and play without being restricted by gender stereotypes.

About Wake Forest University

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