Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Stereotype Threat and Parenting

A couple of weeks ago, I ran into the NPR article, How Stereotypes Can Drive Women to Quit Science, which discusses stereotype threat. Stereotype threat is the phenomenon that even if you consciously say that you don't believe in stereotypes, subconsciously, you still act in accordance to those.

It's an interesting article, go read it.

As I read it I thought about my time studying math in college and other choices I've made in my life. I also thought about my kids and how I really want to raise them without gendered expectations and yet I find myself doing just that.

Last week when I wrote about potty learning and said I had not wanted to push Isaac too much because  I'd heard "boys potty train later than girls?" Yes, I was letting a stereotype affect how I approached pottying for Isaac. And despite that, he's about at the same level Margaret was at the age of two. I'm sure some boys potty learn later, just as some girls do, and it might be that more boys potty learn later than most girls, but that doesn't mean all boys and all girls. Each person is an individual.

In the same vein, I've let the "boys like math and girls like reading" stereotype seep in, even though my own degree is in math. When Margaret was counting to herself in the back of the bike trailer, prompting me to make up a hundreds chart so she could learn to count to 100, I was a surprised that she liked numbers. She now likes to count up to 1000 (though her name for 1000 is 10-hundred). I think there were a couple of things playing into my surprise at her love of numbers: I wanted to be careful that my interest in math wasn't pushed on her. I didn't want to push math on her simply because I had a degree in it- maybe she wouldn't like it and resent it if I pushed her towards that. Queue the, "I don't have to be like you!" teenage angst. So yes, I was surprised she liked numbers. She's only 4 so who knows what she'll like 10, 20 years from now, but I was already letting stereotypes affect how I introduced her to concepts.

Similarly, I get a little too excited when Isaac brings me a book to read. I grew up in a family where the boys and my father didn't read a lot. I rarely saw guys who liked reading and that stereotype of boys not doing well in reading comprehension and the similar reading issues. So when Isaac brings me a book, I think, "Woohoo! He likes reading!" I find that I don't have the same reaction when Margaret brings me books. I think I overreact so that I can assure myself that he won't have troubles reading later. Because you know, he's a boy.

Stereotyping: guilty as charged.

Also, check out Isaac ironing. (It was not plugged in).

Do you find yourself stereotyping the people around you? Your kids? Your coworkers? Yourself? What do you do to be more aware of this?


  1. I just wanted to comment on the 10-hundred thing. That is actually the way that most formal math programs introduce the concept of one thousand. Ten hundred(s), so your LOis instinctively getting it just great! The concept of the word "one thousand" isn't introduced until much later, fourth or fifth grade. At least in Saxon math.

  2. For a while, she referred to 200 as "a hundred and a hundred" because right before you get to it you're saying, "one hundred and ninety-nine..." She's totally getting the concepts. :)

  3. Grandpa Farley11:45 AM

    I don't know how much is genetics and how much is enviroment but Great Grandpa Farley was very good at math and that has been the case on down thru the generations. Both Great Grandpa and Grandma where avid readers and that was also pasted on. As we raised our 8 kids we have always supported reading ( summer reading challanges)and taken them to the library and even bought boooks. We have pasted on to Mandy's family many of the books that Deia and Eli have out grown. Thia family is a reading group. I love to hear about my two grandchildren who love numbers and reading.

  4. Catching up on your blog after a long absence.

    I was JUST doing this the other day, although I was dismayed that my 4 year old (son) is in LOVE with sounding out letters into words and dismayed that he doesn't want to count to 20 and he calls 11 "eleventeen." Some things are just die hard in our brains, eh?

    I have an English degree and I want to save him from my useless liberal arts education! I literally roll my eyes at myself. ;)


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