If your kids frequently cry that you're unfair, you ought to examine how you're handling things. Equal treatment among siblings is an important goal to strive for.
Research reported in a 1994 issue of Adolescence confirms what many parents suspect: we're more protective of our daughters and more permissive with our sons. While a 6'2" teenage boy is, indeed, more likely to be safe walking at night than a 5'3" teenage girl, every time we treat women differently we communicate that they need to be dependent on someone's protection for their well-being.
Though there are very real safety issues that will dictate some decisions, try as often as possible to make the same decisions for both your sons and your daughters. Thus far, note what researchers say:
- Sons are permitted to work outside the home at an earlier age than daughters, thus providing them with earlier independence.
- Girls do more housework than boys, sending the message that the home is a woman's domain, and teaching boys a “learned helplessness.”
- Fathers are more encouraging to their sons about participation in competitive sports than they are to their daughters.
- Teens perceive that boys get to use the family car more often than girls, thus granting them greater independence.
The Not Tough-Enough Boy
How gender sensitive are you as a parent? Try the following exercise:
“My teenage daughter got terribly homesick while she was away visiting her cousin, so my spouse and I decided to ______________.”
“My teenage son got terribly homesick while he was away at camp, so my spouse and I decided to ______________.”
“Pick her up early” is a logical fill-in for the first sentence concerning the daughter, but would you pick up a teen son who was feeling homesick? In most families, the answer to that would be “not likely.” The son would be expected to tough it out.
Perhaps you would handle both son or daughter in the same way, but often, fathers have difficulty with what they consider “babying” their son.
Boys are raised to be self-reliant, achievement-oriented, tough and aggressive, sexually assertive, and emotionally controlled. (And by all means, they must avoid all things feminine!) What a burden.
In her book, The Courage to Raise Good Men, psychologist Dr. Olga Silverstein puts forth a theory that more and more experts are espousing: boys are pushed away from the family too soon, and the greatest gift parents can give their boys is the ability to acknowledge their feelings. In her book, Dr. Silverstein relates a touching story about a teenage boy who wanted to live at home for an extra year after high school; he didn't feel he was ready to move away yet. As a therapist, her chore was to help the father understand that his son's choice didn't mean the boy was a failure.