Scientific Research Says Gender-Neutral Parenting May be Futile

February 08, 2017
How much of who we become is determined by science – by the unique genes that make up our particular DNA? And, how much is determined by our environment – the family, social circumstances and culture in which we are raised? This nature vs. nurture battles has been going on for centuries. The most recent incarnation focuses on gender-neutral parenting, the idea of raising a child in a non-gender-specific way.

In a recent ope/ed in Newsday, Debra W. Soh, a neuroscientist, argues that science does not back up gender-neutral parenting.

“Offering kids the opportunity to pursue what they’d like, freed from societal expectations, is undeniably positive – whether it has to do with toys, clothing or aspirations. But the scientific reality is that it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics. Biology matters.”

She references large amounts of research that show that toy preferences are innate and not societally or parentally influenced.

“Most girls will gravitate toward socially interesting toys, like dolls, that help social and verbal abilities to develop. Most boys will gravitate toward toys that are mechanically interesting, like cars and trucks, fostering visuospatial skills.”

Despite this research and more that the author references, she also indicates the movement toward gender-neutral parenting is growing.

“The gender-neutral trend capitalizes on fears that parents have of inadvertently limiting their child’s potential. We want the best for our children – for daughters to grow up to be as competitive for jobs in science, technology, engineering and math as their male counterparts, and for sons to possess strong social and communication skills.”

Soh encourages parents to let their children focus on things that they find interesting, whether they are gender-typical or not. So next time you hand your daughter a bright red toy fire truck, don’t be concerned if she cradles it like a baby or drops in favor of a doll in a pink dress. According to Soh, it’s her biology, not your parenting, that’s pointing her in that direction.

Read the full story on Newsday’s website here.