Reading a book the other day I started thinking about the things we teach our kids. This book in particular (Cinderella ate my daughter) was about what we teach our girls as a society. The princess culture was at the center of the discussion in the book and it talked about how the concept of a princess has had a huge influence on the way we raise our girls and on the perspective that they have on themselves. Beauty has become a very important concept in a girl’s life and our own expectations as adults have really not changed as much in the last few decades. We constantly tell our girls how pretty they are and praise their intelligence instead of effort, as if our expectations were easily surpassed. At the same time, we tell our boys how strong and big they are and praise their athletic abilities. Sorry little guy with no abilities or interest in sports. Your are going to have to convince daddy that the robot your are building this week is going to teach you basketball and that the Kinect dancing game you love so much counts as exercising. There is a noticeable gap here, and we are just realizing it now, or maybe is this generation accepting it and paying more attention.
But, why are we teaching our daughters to value beauty? Or for that matter, why teach anyone that? Telling our girls how pretty they look and then expecting them to appreciate others for what they are inside, their actions and their values, seems contradicting. Doesn’t it? The whole “beauty is in the inside” speech doesn’t mean as much when we constantly praise how “pretty” or “cute” they look with a certain dress or while posing for a picture. You might now be thinking, wait, are we not supposed to tell our kids they are pretty? That doesn’t sound right. Well, is not that we tell them only, is how often we do and the message that is being conveyed with our comments. That beauty is an important attribute. More so than being humble or considerate. After all, from a kids perspective, they might think “I hear more about how pretty I am than about how good I am”. The same thing happens with regards to kid’s grades. Most parents can get so concerned with the grades that may forget to ask better questions about school. What was your favorite class today? Did you learn something new? Instead tend to ask, how was the test? Do you need to study for tomorrow? Do you have a test tomorrow? I’m not saying getting good grades is not important. I bet it will matter to me when the moment is here. My point is that we constantly, as a society, teach our kids to place their concerns in the wrong place. I would think that most of us care about our kids learning more than we do about the grade, especially when we are talking about young kids. It is not as if a C in Math in the third grade will get in the way of them getting into that college mommy and daddy have their hearts set on. But that still may not be exactly the message we convey.
We expect girls to behave and boys to experience. Little by little and with almost no awareness, we instate in them insecurities and weaknesses. You are a strong boy, don’t cry. Or, you are such a well behaved little girl, very quite in your chair, good. And no, I’m not making these up, (I wish) this are all things I have heard before. We also tell them about finding someone who will make them happy. In movies, TV series, even in music, we hear over and over about relationships and about finding “the one”. The mystical creature who will make you happy and treat you well. Well, here is my thought about this, how about learning to get there on your own? Learning to love yourself first and then finding someone to share the joy, the adventures. Someone to partner with, not for you to rescue, not to be rescued by, to share your time, your life.
Seems like there is a gap between what we want kids to learn and what we teach them. And this gap is getting wider and more complicated with each generation. Is important to remember, kids in this generation will be learning more, and more from the media and internet, than we can have control over. This may mean it is even more important for parents to make the right impressions, to convey the important messages to kids. Whatever that may be for your family. And for us a society to pay closer attention to our own decisions. After all, the media messages revolve around what we decide to consume, the same way there will be ever more pink princess dresses at the toy store for as long as we keep buying them.