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Are boys smarter? Girls as young as 6 think so!

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Through no fault of their own, girls start believing that boys are smarter than them, right from the tender age of six. And this impacts their career choices in the long run.

Though there is absolutely no evidence to support that one gender is smarter than the other, school girls think so. In a report, girls as young as 6 years start to believe that boys are smarter than them. The reason - gender stereotypes.

A study published in the latest issue of the journal, Science, tries to find out the age at which the gender stereotypes start to take shape, something that affects the career choices later on. After collecting data from over 400 children, the conclusion was that 6 is the age at which children start perceiving a 'difference' in the intellectual ability - their own version of 'very very smart'. They are indifferent till the age of 5.

The children interviewed who were over the age of 6, chose boys over girls as the ones more suited for many tasks. Both boys and girls held this perception, something that alarms me. The reason being and the study states it - underconfidence and underrepresentation of women in academia and highly skilled jobs.

As the study states,

"The stereotypes associating men but not women with brilliance and genius may take a toll on women’s careers; fields whose members place a great deal of value on sheer brilliance (e.g., mathematics, physics, philosophy) have lower proportions of women earning bachelor’s and doctoral degrees.

However, investigations of the “brilliance = males” stereotype that focus exclusively on participants of college age or older overlook a critical fact: Cultural messages about the presumed cognitive abilities of males and females are likely to be influential throughout development.

If children absorb and act on these ideas, then many capable girls are likely to have already veered away from certain fields by the time they reach college. Thus, it is important to investigate the acquisition of the “brilliance = males” stereotype in early childhood, as children enter school and begin to make choices that shape their future career paths."

So, what do we do as parents?

I feel in my bones that a person's intellectual capability is irrespective of the person's gender. So it is a loss of the entire world if a girl stops being motivated to take up a subject just because she 'thinks' she would not be good at it as she is a girl. But the world loses such brilliance daily, and we are responsible for it in a way.

Let a child be a child!

As parents, it is our responsibility to build our child's confidence, and not kill it. My mum was told not to pursue her Master's because then, she would have needed a much more educated husband. her aspirations were killed by my grandfather, even though he had her best interests in his heart. We should not let something like this happen again.

So here are three things you should do to encourage your child, be it a girl or a boy.

  1. Don't label work. When your child sees the dad doing some work and the mum doing some other work on a daily basis, they associate that work with the gender. Their games start revolving around such stereotypes, and even though you may not have done anything consciously, you help them develop one. The thing to do is to swap work once in a while. When a child sees his parents doing everything, there is no building up of stereotypes.
  2. Think about the toys you get for your child. Dolls for girls and cars for boys build up stereotypes faster than anything. That is why you see girls playing with miniature kitchen sets, pretending to be their mums. While there is nothing wrong with a small tea party, let the girls play with cars as well. A child is going to absorb what you expose them to. So start exposing them to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) early on. This will help them in the long run.
  3. Tell them real life stories rather than fairytales. When a child hears about a fair maiden being rescued from a monster by a handsome prince, they end up assuming those roles. A boy, thus, ends up getting the wrong notions about female beauty, and a girl subconsciously yearns for a prince to come to her rescue. Both of these things are not good. Tell them instead, stories from your local history. Inspire them for moral lessons. It will help them.

Mums and dads, do let us know what you feel in the comments below.

Source: CNN, Science

Also read: Invest in a STEM toy for your child

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