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Superheroes, Barbies, and Tablets Oh My!

girl in Superhero's costume

When people find out that you’re having a baby, one of the first questions you hear is, “Is it a boy or a girl?”

We kept our children’s genders a surprise until they were born, but within hours of their respective arrivals, family and friends returned with pink clothing for my daughter and blue clothing for my son. At their first birthday parties, there was no shortage of dolls for my daughter and trucks for my son, and my children loved them. My daughter is active, creative, an extrovert, and loves makeup and nail polish. In the last year she’s also shown an interest in soccer. My son is observant, sporty, musical, and empathetic. He continues to love all things cars and superheroes. And now that they’re older, both kids are captivated by their tablets.

Research tells us that unstructured play is the most important work a child can do. Play is anything but superfluous! When children decide what they’re going to play, negotiate the rules of a game, or assign roles in the game, they’re changing the neural connections in their brains responsible for regulating emotions, planning, and problem solving.

This is great news! However, walk into the toy section of most department stores and you’ll notice that the toys in the “Boy Section” encourage play associated with physical strength and coordination, whereas toys in the “Girl Section” encourage play focused on nurturing, relationship building, and communication.

The power of suggestion is strong, and because of companies’ strategic marketing, children are not choosing their interests but rather letting these external messages shape their beliefs and self-concept over their entire childhood. Parents are equally duped, and we may be shortchanging our children as a result.

I want my daughter to know that she is physically strong, capable of protecting herself, AND a great communicator with quality friends. Similarly, I want my son to be nurturing, to develop strong social skills, AND to have confidence in his physical capabilities. In order to raise well-rounded children, then it’s crucial to provide opportunities to explore themes typically associated with their own gender, as well as the other gender. Here’s how I plan to get there:

Take Away Tips

Balance tablet and technology time with unstructured imaginative play.

Be mindful of the power of language – talk about firefighters and police officers rather than firemen and policemen.

Encourage dressing up! Be open-minded about children dressing in clothes typically reserved for the opposite gender – they’re just pretending after all!

Provide children with gender neutral toys such as magna tiles, blocks, and art supplies.
Expose children, regardless of gender, to the same opportunities and toys. Stop limiting their play based on what is in the toy aisle reserved for their gender.

Dr. Carmen Anderson is a School Counselor at St. Mary’s School, a private International Baccalaureate (IB) World School, located in south Orange County, dedicated to providing the best education possible for Preschool, Elementary and Middle School students. Carmen Anderson earned her B.S. degree in Psychology from Santa Clara University and later her M.A./Psy.D in Clinical Psychology from Pepperdine University. For more information about St. Mary’s School, visit

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