Children’s Book ‘Made By Raffi’ Explains Why Gender Stereotypes Can Be Harmful For Kids

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By Craig Pomeranz

I have been thinking a lot lately about how early we force children to conform to adult behavior regarding sex and romance, especially as seen in pop culture. Despite worldwide public concern about the issue, I see evidence that little has changed. Watching the new television series ‘So You Think You Can Dance: The Next Generation,’ a dance competition for young people, I was perplexed at how sexualized these kids are by some of the parents as well as the judges and hosts.

Moms tell their sons to ‘show them you’re the man!’ Judges ask nine-year-olds if they have boyfriends or girlfriends.  Little girls display seductive make-up, costumes and dance moves. How can we foster self-assuredness so children can choose for themselves when they are ready for more adult thoughts and activities?

The sexualization and “adultification” of children, specifically girls, in popular culture is not a new trend. However, studies show a huge increase through media (TV, social media, advertising, etc.) and other outlets such as toys. The American Psychological Association (APA) found that this sexualization of girls ultimately leads to “mental health problems in girls and women [which include] eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression.”

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The APA also found that there is a larger impact on society, which “may include an increase in sexism; fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM); increased rates of sexual harassment and sexual violence; and an increased demand for child pornography.”

Apart from forcing our kids to grow up to soon, how much misery and wasted talent is caused by these artificial ideas about what are appropriate activities for boys and girls? And how boys and girls should look. Why is being feminine a negative idea? Being considered a tomboy is not such a bad thing in our male-centered society, but if a boy participates in an activity that is considered “feminine,” horrors! Why is it that a girl who would possibly want to engage in perceived male activity is to be cheered on, but if a boy wants to act out in what is perceived “girl” behavior, he is put down.

My children’s book, Made by Raffi, is based on a true-life incident that occurred when my godson was in grade school. The book has been translated into eight languages and has been enjoyed by kids all over the world. It touches on topics that parents, teachers and young people need help talking about: how we pressure our kids to conform especially regarding gender normative behavior.  Raffi is a little boy who likes to knit and sew, but this is only one example.

Made-by-Raffi

The Like a Girl campaign proves that children have to be taught gender behavior – it is not inherent. The “Be a Man” video (shown below) created by Cut.com also makes clear the subliminal pressure we put on our children to act out in certain ways.  Exploring many interests is the best way to find oneself and become a whole person. I hope kids will discover that being a boy or girl is not a sharply defined role, but can encompass many activities.

Even the most evolved parents are known to flounder when it comes to their children’s behavior in public. They don’t see how this reinforces the same message. Acting out at home is okay but it is not good in the “real world.” We as caretakers and parents can’t protect our children from everything. There are things they need to learn on their own, through experience. Clearly, there is a need for voices of reason and understanding!

After you open the topic for conversation, the next step is to find strategies for kids to combat the onslaught of pressure. When my godson started knitting, his classmates could not understand why he was participating in a “girl’s” hobby, but eventually his classmates came to respect him for his talent.

He started making projects for everyone he knew and their friends. Soon everyone wanted something that Raffi made. Made by Raffi sets out to help children not become victims.  I hope the book shows that it is perfectly natural for boys and girls to be interested in many things and that parents need not fear reprisals for letting their children explore all facets of themselves.

 

 

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Craig Pomranz is an international singer/song writer, actor, dancer and children’s book author. You can find out more about him on www.CraigPomranz.com, by following him on twitter @MadeByRaffi, or checking out his Youtube Channel.

 

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