In a recent study, we looked in detail at kids of different ages and genders and what was influencing them in the subjects they pick for GCSE/A Levels and also the careers they might then pursue. There were some very interesting conversations that made us think… are we too quick to blame the media and toy manufacturers for the gender stereotyping we see in kids today?

It’s widely known that kids as young as 4, as soon as they really realise what it means to be a boy or a girl, start showing a gender bias towards the jobs they like to do when they’re older, and there are countless articles in the media slating the stereotyped toys, clothes etc

But what about kids who are older, kids in secondary who are making life changing decisions about their careers? We met quite a few who had just made those choices and asked them about what had influenced them

1. Parents, and specifically mums seemed to play the most prominent role
2. Teachers too played a part – but this seemed to be ‘hit and miss’ depending on individual teachers and their relationship with students

So parents, and mum particularly is very influential. But something else we thought was interesting – kids often reflect their own parents career goals and performance. So higher achieving parents tend to have kids who are aiming for the same level of attainment… but on the downside, there are parents who didn’t do so well at school or who weren’t academic (with very academic kids) who are telling us they’re planning on following in their mother’s footsteps, aiming for a lower paid, less demanding careers (when their school reports are saying they could do medicine at university if they wanted to!)

In this study, we also spoke to the parents – and asked them about their kids’ school performance. It seemed to be that even when the kids themselves were in the top sets for Maths, Science etc, parents were still more influenced by their kids’ gender than their actual ability. This finding is in line with a study from the University of Virginia in 2008 conducted with 500, 5th-11th grade students where they noted that parents viewed their sons as more capable in science and maths and daughters more talented in humanities.

We’re pleased to say that the kids themselves don’t have these gender biases – boys and girls pretty much equally high perceptions of their abilities across the subjects. That is, until it they’re making their YR 9 subject choices when this parental influence seems to reach a peak and girls specifically are being told by mums that “maths is a lot of work and very intense” and “maybe pick something easier, you’re creative like me”.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be too quick to blame all these outside influences biasing our kids – perhaps parents need to look at the examples they’re giving their kids and sometimes outdated advice is the real reason these damaging stereotypes that are holding young girls today back are continuing.

Believe in yourselves teens (and we never thought we’d say it but…) and don’t listen to your parents!

facebook twitter mail