Playing 'Boy' Games Helps Girls, and Vice Versa
Fri Sep 24, 2004
By Alison McCook
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Ten-year olds who spend more time engaging in activities typically associated with their gender tend to have more stereotypical academic interests, skills and characteristics two years later, new research reports.
For instance, girls who logged many hours on "girl" activities like reading, knitting, dancing or playing with dolls tended to get better grades in English, show more signs of sensitivity, and were more likely to have low self-esteem, which is more common in girls, the Pennsylvania-based researchers noted.
However, girls who spent more time on sports -- a traditionally masculine pursuit -- tended to become more interested in math two years later, regardless of their interest in math at age 10.
Likewise, boys who spent more time playing music -- a traditionally feminine activity -- got relatively good grades in math 2 years later.
These findings show that what children spend time on at age 10 can have a strong influence on their later years, lead author Dr. Susan M. McHale of Penn State University in University Park told Reuters Health.
"The patterns that are established in elementary school seem to really matter," she said.
McHale added that adopting many traditional gender roles and interests can "foreclose possibilities" for kids. Therefore, parents may want to encourage their children to pursue activities not typically associated with their sex to expand their horizons.
McHale and her colleagues interviewed 200 first-born 10-year old girls and boys and their families, and then contacted the children by phone seven times to ask them how much time they spent on different activities that day.
Two years later, the researchers re-contacted the children and asked them about their grades, interests and other characteristics.
The findings appear in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Although predilections largely predicted skills, characteristics and interests 2 years later, McHale said, for boys, the relationship was somewhat more complex.
For instance, she noted that boys who spent more time with other boys tended to become more sensitive over time. In contrast, girls who spent more time with girls tended to become less sensitive.
McHale explained that when boys play together, they often play games in large groups, which involves teamwork and following complex rules. Girls, however, tend to play in smaller groups, and largely spend their time talking, she noted.
These findings suggest that girls "may not have to practice the skills that boys have to practice" when playing sports, causing girls to lose some of their sensitivity over time, she said.
McHale suggested that parents may want to encourage their daughters to spend time with boys, and teach them about being sensitive to others.
SOURCE: Developmental Psychology, September 2004.