Parents used a variety of words to best describe their offspring. Attributes that rose to the top were ‘friendly,’ ‘smart,’ ‘respectful,’ ‘kind,’ ‘fun,’ ‘thoughtful,’ ‘funny,’ and ‘healthy.’ While these can all be considered gender-neutral attributes, in the context of gender stereotypes words like ‘thoughtful,’ ‘respectful’ and ‘kind’ generally skew female. It’s worth noting that both parents of girls and boys ranked these attributes fairly equally. So while we know kids and teens are breaking gender stereotypes when talking about themselves, this study confirms parents are following suit when it comes to describing their children.
Diving deeper, parents tell us gender stereotypes do not apply when it comes to their own children, and what were once considered gender-specific attributes are no longer constrained by those boundaries. For example, 60% of parents with boys consider their sons to be ‘affectionate,’ 59% said they are ‘sensitive’ and 38% said their boys (age eight to 17) are ‘emotional.’ A full 55% of parents with girls said their daughters are ‘independent,’ and 51% consider them to be ‘strong,’ while 33% said they are ‘athletic.’
In direct contrast to how they described their own children, when the same parents discussed boys and girls in general terms, they upheld traditional gender stereotypes. They mentioned attributes such as ‘active’ (73%), ‘competitive’ (73%), ‘athletic’ (71%), ‘strong’ (62%), ‘loud’ (51%), ‘brave’ (48%) and ‘wild’ (46%) to describe boys and referred to girls as being ‘emotional’ (76%), ‘sensitive’ (63%), ‘stylish’ (61%), ‘dramatic’ (59%), ‘friendly’ (59%), ‘affectionate’ (56%) and ‘smart’ (53%).
So does growing up today pose more of a challenge than in generations past? Just over half of moms believe ‘girls have it harder growing up today than I did.’ Yet only one-third of dads said ‘boys have it harder growing up today than I did.’ The responses illustrate a disconnect in the way moms and dads feel about growing up today. Moms think this generation of girls genuinely has it tougher whereas dads are more likely to think that growing up today is just the same as it was for them.
Parents are are fervent about teaching their girls to grow up confident with a sense of self-worth and to reject any notion of being inferior to others. As one said, ‘I believe that my daughter should be a strong woman who can take care of herself. Be assertive and protect yourself. Do not let people take advantage of you because you are a girl.’
When it comes to raising boys, parents look to instill morality, respect for others and integrity in their sons. Furthermore, several parents mentioned the importance of strength and leadership when it comes to teaching their boys. ‘To be strong, be a provider and protector and look out for those younger and weaker than he is. To also be decisive and look out for the interests of others,’ is what one parent wanted for his son.
This concludes our two-part report on gender perceptions and stereotypes. In the next Kaleidoscope, we’ll explore the impact of social media and the role it plays in kids’ and teens’ daily lives. For more information, contact Kaleidoscope@nick.com
(Source: Nickelodeon Kids & Family Research, August 09; Touchstone Research, June 09. Quant Sample size: N = 500 parents)
In an effort to keep you in touch with our audience and give a voice to our consumers, the Brand and Consumer Insights Department at Nickelodeon Kids & Family has created Nickelodeon Kaleidoscope. Every month, Kaleidoscope will capture key areas of interest across the kid and family cultural landscape, provide an understanding of attitudes and behaviors, and report on trends and buzz.