Looking for a barbie doll to impress your daughter? What if she prefers water gun to a doll? Well, while buying toys, parents and grandparents should consider the child's interests, not their gender. Limiting choice of toys according to gender can fuel stereotypes, suggests new research.
Clues to the continued dominance of men in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields -- and the reason nurturing often comes more easily to women -- can be found in the children's toy department, said sociologist Elizabeth Sweet from California State University, Sacramento, US.
"When we wall off the toys that develop spatial skills or are devoted to science and say, 'These are only for boys,' and we wall off the toys that develop empathy and verbal skills and say, 'These are only for girls,' it severely limits how children develop," Sweet said in a university statement.
"If kids aren't exposed to the kinds of toys and play that help them develop those skills, they may not be as good at them over time. But even more insidious is that it reinforces the stereotype that boys are good at science and math, and girls are not. It pushes women and girls out of that field, because they think it's not for them," she explained.
Sweet believes that making STEM toys pink, as proposed by some toy manufacturers, would not help much.
"I think that's the wrong approach," Sweet said.
"I think that plays up the stereotype that girls are so different that they need a special kind of STEM toys," noted.
"Research shows that different kinds of toys help children to develop different kinds of skills," she said.
"For instance, building blocks are great for building spatial skills. Playing with dolls is really good for developing language skills and nurturing abilities. All of those skills are essential for a fully functioning human," Sweet pointed out.