Girl-boy friendships matter. While friendships happen irrespective of the gender, a girl-boy bond particularly matters. They give children a chance to explore themselves outside of constrictive gender stereotypes and question them as well. These friendships also allow children to prepare for adulthood, during which many of us will work alongside, and often have romantic relationships with, another gender.
A girl playing with a boy might feel free to be competitive, a trait that is normally associated with boys, while a boy, playing with girls may feel free to be talkative and emotional. A child, questioning his or her gender, might feel free to explore part of him, her or themselves that culture forces them to bury.
Furthermore, these friendships allow children to prepare for adulthood, during which period, they will work alongside, and might even be romantically inclined to another gender. Friendships allow children to see the complexity of humanity. Children who have grown up with strong demarcations between the two genders might have a tough time seeing and accepting them.
Often, children resist girl-boy play because they feel boys are hardwired to play like boys and girls should play like girls. However, as with all issues related to sex and gender, the research is both extensive and controversial and finds that while there are a handful of traits that are more common in boys, and another handful that are more common in girls, few individuals are pure ‘boy’ or ‘girl.’
Speaking about it to the media organisation, David Walsh, a psychologist and author says, ‘The differences are generalisations. But on an individual basis, there is a tremendous amount of overlap between girls and boys.
Most cultures reinforce personality traits that conform to gender stereotypes. A boy who might like ninjas and playing with a doll. However, he will be encouraged to do the former alone. Furthermore, culture also reinforces the idea that when a boy and girl play together, it has to be a romantic association.
Girl-boy friendship can help undo some of these gender constraints that society forces. When authority figures in schools or parents approve of these friendships, they are sending their children the message that it’s not only okay to play with another gender, but it is also okay to play like them.
Practically speaking, there are a lot of benefits to girl-boy friendships that will help them as they grow up. According to Rachel Simmons, author of ‘Enough as She Is’, exposing youngsters to different ways of conflict resolution helps them to learn to move freely between the two.
Another advantage to girl-boy friendships is the way they give boys a chance to talk about their feelings. This practice in expressing themselves will help them pursue professional and romantic relationships later on in life.
However, as long as children are subjected to witnessing gender stereotypes goes far deeper than those they encounter at home. As Strauss notes, “Childhood friendships are colored by Netflix algorithms, schoolyard chatter, gender-specific goody bags, and the million other messages children receive informing them that being a different gender from someone means you have absolutely nothing in common with them.” When these gendered messages pop up, parents should draw kids’ attention to them and engage them on the topic: “I think it’s strange that the clerk asked if you wanted the ‘girl toy’ or the ‘boy toy’ instead of asking if you’d like a princess or a superhero. What do you think about that?”
These stereotypes also crop up in children’s books and media, which is why sharing diverse, empowering books, which mirror the variety of personalities kids will encounter in the real world, is so important. Sharing stories about girls and women in science or princesses that break the damsel in distress mold creates a broader picture of what girls and boys do. This is where parents come in.
Parents can casually suggest all gender schoolmates for play dates and birthday party lists. Furthermore, children of parents’ friends and cousins or neighbours provide good off-the-clock opportunities for children to build connections with another gender without fear of judgement.