Kids raised by gay and lesbian parents are more flexible in their play than kids of straight parents, engaging in both typically feminine and masculine activity no matter what sex they are.
The finding comes from a study recently published in the journal Sex Roles. The study looked at the preschool-aged children of first-time adoptive parents, some lesbian, some gay, and some straight.
The findings show “same-sex parents may facilitate their children’s exploration of a wider range of toys and activities by creating an environment where their sons and daughters have greater access to, and are unlikely to be chastised for playing with, toys that are stereotypically ‘girl toys’ and ‘boy toys’,” says Abbie Goldberg, one of the researchers on the project and an associate professor of psychology at Clark University.
Sons of lesbian mothers exhibited slightly less stereotypically masculine behavior, such as playing with trucks and guns, than sons of gay dads and straight parents. In contrast, the study notes, straight parents may be more discouraging of behavior that’s not gender typical.
Our culture has made great strides in letting kids play with whatever toys they’re drawn to, but not far enough if a toy catalog from Sweden that shows boys playing with dolls and girls playing with castles is major headline news for days.
Most of the media coverage about the catalog was positive (save for the expected conservative hand-wringing about the “gender reversal” being a harbinger of the apocalypse). Still, too many kids – boys in particular – are chastised for playing with toys that don’t conform to gender norms.
Heaven forbid a little boy should want to wear pink stripey shoes to school because he loves zebras, or want to dress up as Daphne for Hallowe’en because he thinks it’s fun, or want to sport a little nail polish because he likes it.
All the cultural agonizing over “appropriately” gendered play is unfortunate because, as the study also points out, locking kids into one type of play makes them less well-rounded.
“Stereotypically feminine toys foster nurturance and role-playing, whereas stereotypically masculine toys promote greater mobility and manipulative play,” says Goldberg. “Thus, children who play with a variety of toys and activities may have a wider repertoire of skills and abilities.”
I can’t say I’m at all surprised by the results of the study – in fact, the findings seem quite obvious – but it’s good to know there’s a measured cognitive benefit to letting kids do what makes them happy, whether it’s “typical” or not.