Gender Stereotypes

What are some examples of gender stereotypes?  Describe the development of gender stereotyping from early childhood into adolescence.

Gender stereotyping can occur in many forms and at many stages of development.  Studies show that gender stereotyped behavior can be increased by parental behavior in very early childhood.  As one example, children’s scores on sex role discrimination at age 4 were elevated in children whose parents had shown sex-typed toy preference at 18 months (Fagot & Leinbach, 1989).  Similarly, another study identified the emergence of gender labeling at about 18 months (Zosuls et al., 2009).  Another study showed that the use of gender in functional categories (e.g. “Good morning, boys and girls”) by teachers in elementary school led to subsequent increase in gender stereotyping among the students (Bigler, 1995).  Interestingly, from a developmental point of view, this increase in gender stereotyping was largest among students who had not yet developed multiple classification skill.  Susan Witt studied the relative influence of parents and peers and found that parents had the more profound influence on gender stereotypes. In addition, she argues, “Sex role stereotypes are well established in early childhood” (Witt, 1997, para. 11).  Other research shows gender stereotypes to be quite persistent, “The experimental intervention with elementary school children led to a reduction of occupational stereotyping.  Children’s own occupational aspirations were not, however, significantly affected” (Bigler & Liben, 1990).

Gender stereotypes can be created and reinforced in many ways.  They can be accidentally reinforced by the unspoken assumptions of caregivers and peers. Gender discriminated color choices (e.g. pink & blue), toy choices (Barbies & GI Joes) and even behavioral expectations (playing catch & playing house) are all examples of unconscious gender role differentiation.  More deliberately, boys are frequently expected to play sports, be tough and exhibit characteristics our culture associates with masculinity. Likewise, girls are directed towards dolls and more feminine behaviors and pursuits. Statements like “You hit like a girl” and “Boys don’t cry” make crystal clear the societal expectations for both genders.  As socialization and maturation progresses, peer pressure to conform can easily come to include gender stereotyped behaviors.  The enforced conformity of adolescence certainly adds to the stereotyping, but as we’ve seen above, gender stereotypes are well in place from very early on.


Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Bethus, I., Lemaire, V., Lhomme, M., & Goodall, G. (2005). Does prenatal stress affect latent inhibition? It depends on the gender. Behavioural Brain Research, 158(2), 331-338. Retrieved from

Bigler, R. S. (1995, August). The role of classification skill in moderating environmental influences on children’s gender stereotyping: A study of the functional use of gender in the classroom. Child Development, 66(3), 1072-1087. doi: 10.1111/1467-8624.ep9509180275

Burman, D., Biten, T., & Booth, J. (2008). Sex differences in neural processing of language among children. Neuropsychologia, 46(5), 1349-1362 . doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021

Fagot, B. I., & Leinbach, M. D. (1989, June). The young child’s gender schema: Environmental input, internal organization. Child Development, 60(3), 663-672. Retrieved from

Lenroot, R., Gogtay, N., Greenstein, D., Wells, E., Wallace, G., Clasen, L., Blumenthal, J., … Giedd, J. (2007, March 17). Sexual dimorphism of brain developmental trajectories during childhood and adolescence. NeuroImage, 36, 1065-1073. Retrieved from

ScienceDaily. (2008). Boys’ And girls’ brains Are different: Gender differences in language appear biological. Retrieved from

Witt, S. D. (1997, Summer). Parental influence on children’s socialization to gender roles. Adolescence. Retrieved from

Zosuls, K. M., Ruble, D. N., Tamis-LeMonda, C. S., Shrout, P. E., Bornstein, M. H., & Greulich, F. K. (2009, May). The acquisition of gender labels in infancy: Implications for gender-typed play. Developmental Psychology, 45(3), 688-701. Retrieved from

Peer Pressure

For me, peer pressure comes in two forms.

The first is the one we generally think of as peer pressure. Children who are not in compliance with the current standard of ‘cool’ are excluded, teased or harassed. This could be pressure to have sex, to take drugs or other anti-social behaviors. Or it could be as simple as pressure to dress a certain way, look a certain way or like certain songs of celebrities. 

The other form of peer pressure is the pressure children feel from inside themselves to be accepted. I see it even in my 1st grade daughter. Children are constantly scanning their environment to find what’s ‘cool’, how they should act and dress. Coincidentally enough, I was showing my wife a Facebook picture of my very first major crush. The caption to the picture of her and two other girls from 1972 said, “Believe it or not this was who we scoped for what to wear the next day.” Many adolescents feel insecure and ‘not enough’ and they look to others they see as being ‘enough.’ By emulating their behavior, dress and even language, they hope to become ‘enough’ themselves. Ironically, even the ‘popular’ children generally feel exactly as confused, they just happen to be confused and popular.

The first kind of pressure is comparatively easy to combat. In my classroom there would be a crystal clear rule about respect for others. Anything designed to diminish a classmate would not be allowed within range of my sense (or my disciplinary reach, to the extent it is brought to my attention). The second is harder to combat. The message must be communicated that all adolescents struggle with identity, feelings of inadequacy, and not fitting in. Accepting those feelings as normal, developmental, and hormonal (as opposed to ‘real’) would be a small step towards reducing their power. A second step would be passing the message that each person is enough in themselves. The trick for each individual is to find and accept who they are and why they are here. Accepting “Who I am and who I’m not” is a huge step towards silencing internal and external peer group pressure.

Human Development and Footballs

What do you think influences a child’s/adolescent’s development?

There are three major factors that influence human development.

The first is the common genetic inheritance of the species Homo sapiens. The general outline of development is contained in every human being’s DNA. From conception through birth and beyond, physiological development happens according to a common human blueprint. Synaptic development, myelination, and lateralization all occur on a schedule programmed into our common DNA (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 93-99). While experts cannot trace the exact physiological roots of behavioral development, it is clear that the increasing capacity of children parallels the increasing sophistication of the physiology of the body and brain.

The second factor is the specific genetic inheritance of individual human beings. The forty-six chromosomes Influence everything from appearance to physical abilities to personality to mental abilities. This unique individual genetic inheritance creates and defines each living entity in its raw form.

However, neither our common or specific genetic inheritance is determinant. The third influence is environment. As described by Aslin’s Models of Development (Bee & Boyd, 2007, p. 9), different aspects of development are differently sensitive to environment. Some, like vision or language, have critical or at least highly sensitive periods where some base level of stimulus is essential to proper future functioning. Other aspects, like IQ, result from a complex interaction of different genetic and environmental influences. However, it is clear that proper diet, positive stimulation, loving attention, and emotional and physical safety provide significant modifiers to the core genetic programming.

Imagine that a human baby is a football thrown for a deep pass. The common genetic inheritance is the physical laws operating on the football: gravity, friction, rotational forces, etc. The specific inheritance is the football itself: the shape, the weight, the color, the material, the stitches, the individual variations of this particular football. The environment is its passage through the air to its reception: humidity, wind, temperature and, most importantly, the human(s) at the far end, adjusting their behavior to the flight of the ball to provide a safe landing into loving arms.


Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.


What significant issues does puberty and adolescent development present in your classroom?
Fortunately for me (but not accidentally) puberty and adolescence should not be a dominant factor at my chosen 5th grade level. However, with 5th grade students varying from ages nine to twelve, adolescent issues will occur in my classroom. In addition, puberty casts a long shadow, as does the culture we live in, exposing children to behavior models beyond their years.
One major aspect of adolescence that will occur in 5th grade will be the students’ struggle for independence. Unlike earlier grade levels, teacher leadership and mentoring will need to accommodate the students’ growing need to be seen as separate and self-sufficient. Accompanying this need will be a growing tendency to use peer group reflection to measure self-worth. Body issues, self-esteem issues, confusion about friendship and dating, and perhaps the beginnings of experimentation in adult risk behaviors (e.g. drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, sex) may occur. As individuation begins to bite at home, parents will become generally more disempowered. Thus, as adolescence accelerates, the relationship between student, teacher and parent will change. This will place increasing reliance on the direct relationship of teacher to student to drive academic performance.


Obviously, the first step for a teacher of young adolescence is to understand the nature of adolescence and its implications in the classroom. Beyond that, the opportunity exists to create positive outcomes by honoring adolescence as a life transition. The curriculum can be interwoven with literature, art, and history chosen to give the students a sense of continuity and kinship with a developmental experience common to all. Gentle transitions and opportunities to succeed should be the operating mode. Supporting self-esteem and acknowledging the challenges of puberty creates a safer environment in which to adapt to the rapidly occurring internal changes. Adolescence is a time where connectedness, meaningful learning, and emotional (and physical) safety are particularly helpful to students. The 5th grade teacher in many ways launches students on their journey of adolescent expansion. Accepting that and creating the transitions, understanding, and support to empower the experience are my intentions as regards adolescence in my classroom.


American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology. (2001). Normal adolescent development part I. Retrieved February 12, 2010, from
Bee, H., & Boyd, B. (2007). The developing child (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.
Berliner, B. (1993). Adolescence, school transitions, and prevention: A research-based primer. Western Regional Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED387746). Retrieved February 12, 2010 from EBSCOHost ERIC database, Portland, OR.
Esquith, R. (2003). There are no shortcuts. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.