Adolescent Of Our… no, wait, shouldn’t that be *Child* Of Our Time?

Over the past month, I've been watching an episode of 'Child Of Our Time' which looked at gender roles in children.  (As you can gather from the fact that it took me this long to watch a one-hour episode, this was something squeezed into ten-minute slots here and there, around everything else; however, as this particular episode was actually produced by my sister I wanted to get to see all the bits she's been telling me about working on.  Besides, she does some of the interviewing of the children and so every so often while watching the programme I suddenly hear her voice coming from off-camera to ask one of the children something, whereupon I can yell "That's Ruthie!  That's Ruthie!"  Which is pretty cool.)

Anyway, the other day I was squeezing in yet another brief segment of watching and got to the bit where the voice-over told us that one of the girls, Megan, would now have to confront gender roles in a new way because "Megan has a boyfriend."

Er, no, she bloody well doesn't.  She's seven

One of Megan's many friends happens to be a boy.  And, yes, she and her friends probably are getting a bit silly and giggly about her 'boyfriend', because that's the sort of thing kids do.  Why on earth are the adults playing into this misnaming?  Megan's mother professed herself unbothered by the whole thing because, after all, he obviously wasn't really a boyfriend and they were just kids having fun.  Which is totally reasonable.  But why not point that out to the children?  The lesson that, just because one of your friends happens to be of the opposite sex it doesn't automatically mean they're your boyfriend or girlfriend, is such an important one to learn.  Why miss the chance to convey it?

If Katie or Jamie, in prepubertal years, tries telling me they have a boyfriend/girlfriend (says she with the confidence of someone who's not yet dealt with this stage of parenting and therefore knows exactly how to deal with it), then I will gently correct them:  No.  You have a friend who happens to be of X gender.  Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend involves more complicated stuff.  There is a difference.  Being friends with a boy, without making them your boyfriend, is perfectly OK, and will continue to be so, no matter what messages anyone else may give you to the contrary.


Filed under Grr, argh

6 responses to “Adolescent Of Our… no, wait, shouldn’t that be *Child* Of Our Time?

  1. Julie paradox

    yeah, this has been annoying me for quite some time.

  2. nicole

    Oh yes… Sam’s in first grade and they have the most popular girl in their class. Seriously, 90% of the boys want to marry her! They are 7!
    She gets love letters and flowers. And one boy (I know the mom and we “hang out” with the kids a fair bit) selects his clothes as to please this girl. The mom even says stuff like “My future daughter in law” and I cringe every time, but since I have not yet thought of a polite way to tell her to maybe stop this stupid boyfriend/girlfriend stuff, because her son is totally buying into it, I don’t actually say anything about it.

  3. Elizabeth Reid

    Hmm. I’m actually sort of on the fence about whether I agree with your take on this. I agree that when a young child says boyfriend/girlfriend they don’t mean what a teenager or adult means, but at the same time, the children in my son’s class when they were going through a boyfriend/girlfriend phase at four were definitely not confused about it being an automatic consequence of having a friend who is of the opposite sex. At the time, almost all of his friends were girls, but he had one girl who was his ‘girlfriend’. He didn’t call all his female friends that, and it didn’t make him reluctant to have female friends who were not ‘girlfriends’. I didn’t have a big problem with it, I guess I just thought of it as reasonably normal role-playing – I didn’t take it any more seriously either in a good way or a bad way than any other attempt to try on what a small child sees as adult behavior. I just think that correcting the child by telling them that a friend of the opposite sex doesn’t have to be a boyfriend or girlfriend may miss the mark, as the child may know that perfectly well but may be just trying on the role.
    I agree that the adults who get all into this sort of the thing are the real problem!

  4. Sarah

    This drives me nuts. As a primary teacher, I’ve had children fighting, crying, whatever, over so-and-so not being their girlfriend, or ‘going off with’ someone else. If the parents took a more reasonable view to it, all would be well, but one mother even encourages the boy to phone the girl in the evenings to say goodnight! He’s 8 and she’s 7!
    *deep breathing*
    The Adorable Child who has jsut turned 5 has plenty of friends who are girls, and some who are boys. We explained it to him in terms of mummy having lots of friends who are boys, but only one special Richard shaped boyfriend. This produced giggling and then Ewwing as he realised that we loved each other (giggle giggle) but we did kissing (EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!). He is *NOT* having a girlfriend ever if it means he has to kiss her. That’s disgusting. (he says!)

  5. Ruth

    “The lesson that, just because one of your friends happens to be of the opposite sex it doesn’t automatically mean they’re your boyfriend or girlfriend, is such an important one to learn. Why miss the chance to convey it?”
    I think this comment underestimates the subtleties of children’s understanding about the nature of relationships. Having spent a lot of time filming Megan, I know that she already clearly understands the point that: “just because one of your friends happens to be of the opposite sex doesn’t automatically make them your boyfriend;” which is why she also has several friends who are boys whom she calls ‘friends’ and makes the distinction between them and the one she calls her boyfriend. She and her peers actually have quite a complex and sophisticated understanding of the types of relationships that exist between people.
    I think to point this out to Megan as a life lesson would be met with a “duh! you don’t say!” For a parent to patronise her understanding I believe would at best result in their well meaning ‘lesson’ being totally ignored and at worst completely undermine the parent’s authority as someone who can guide her in making sense of her world and these difficult issues within it.

  6. Constance

    That’s directed and produced, if you please. XX Granny C

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