Common Sense’s 2017 research report, Watching Gender: How Stereotypes in Movies and on TV Impact Kids’ Development, showed that kids who are fed gender stereotypes may internalize those roles, shaping their behavior for years to come.
Stereotypically gendered media shows kids a narrow view of who they are and what they can be. Girls must be princesses: damsels in distress and sexual objects. Boys must be superheroes: decisive and strong. The effects on children of gendered media include:
- girls’ focus on their appearance and value as sexual objects
- more tolerant views of sexual harassment
- the establishment of gendered behaviors in romantic and sexual relationships
- riskier behavior in boys
- career choices limited by gender norms
While it’s the role of a parent or caregiver to communicate the family’s beliefs about gender expectations, teachers are key role models in kids’ lives and have an enormous impact on how kids regard themselves and their capabilities. It’s important to be mindful of how our words, actions, and content choices in the classroom can perpetuate or combat gender stereotypes.
What kids understand about gender norms and stereotypes varies depending on their stage of development. Across the grades, teachers can promote positive gender representations by presenting counter-stereotypes, talking to kids about gendered content, and teaching kids to critically analyze the media in their lives.
Use the grade-specific recommendations below to combat gender stereotypes and give your students a broader perspective on their options and capabilities.
Kids in the primary grades are learning their gender identities and beginning gender-typed play (girls “clean the kitchen” and boys “mow the lawn”), often segregating into all-girl or all-boy play groups. It’s during these early years that kids learn stereotypes about activities, traits, toys, and skills associated with each gender. Young kids can also be pretty intolerant of gender-role transgressions.
- Introduce students to people from real life who show there’s more than one way to be a boy or a girl.
- Select stories for the classroom that don’t play up gender stereotypes.
- Comment positively on stories that equally value all genders.
- Put kids into mixed-gender learning groups to encourage cross-gender friendships.
Older elementary school kids begin to attribute certain qualities to men and women—for example, that women are more emotional and affectionate and men are more ambitious and aggressive. They associate specific occupations and academic subjects with each gender. Kids at this age also continue to self-segregate based on gender.