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.