A six-year global study of gender expectations, recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, has revealed a dangerous new truth. Children seem to learn gender stereotypes by the age of ten, and these biases can contribute to behavior that places their health at serious risk.
Gender Stereotyping is Linked to Increased Childhood Depression, Violence, and Suicide Risks
The study is based on the interviews given by 450 adolescents from around the world. This found that the same ideas and expectations about gender were ingrained in children across all cultures. Some of the most common gender stereotyping includes are that girls are weak and boys are strong; girls and vulnerable and boys are aggressive.
The problem with these rigid ideas about gender is that they can lead to unique mental health risks and dangers for children. Girls, who feel that they are the weaker sex and should be “submissive,” may have to face teen pregnancy or exposure to violence. Boys, who feel extreme pressure to be “manly” enough, may turn to substance abuse or exhibit suicidal behaviors.
While adolescent health programs may aim to address these issues, such programs typically do not become available until the teenage years. This new study, however, found that children learn and are influenced by these gender expectations even when as young as ten years old.
By the time public health programs kick in to address issues such as teen violence and depression, gender stereotyping have long since been accepted by and ingrained in the adolescents. They also seem to be mirrored in their behavior.
Going forward, this global study will provide crucial information in shaping educational curricula for children, in particular, kids under the age of 10. While the exact teaching direction has yet to be determined, it is clear that earlier education regarding healthy gender roles could have a positive impact on the behavior during the adolescence.
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