Here in Pakistan, we have a very skewed definition of what friendships between children of different genders can lead to. Children are children and should be allowed to remain that way. There have been signs that when little boys and girls are allowed to develop strong bonds just as they would with peers of the same gender, it does wonders to their perspectives and experience of the world.
Usually girls and boys are expected to partake in completely different activities, this is a part of the cultural and social norms and values of the society that they live in. However, these gender roles also limit the children’s potential in the future. If boys and girls are allowed to engage in meaningful conversations with each other, especially at a primary school level, they learn that they can think outside of the restrictive gender roles that have been assigned for them.
For example, boys are generally taught to engage in psychical play outside the house and are discouraged from exhibiting any signs of behaviors or traits that are stereo-typically associated with girls such as playing with kitchen sets or dolls. This not only reinforces to the child that they are not to question gender norms but also helps form the negative view that things associated to girls are not something to aspire to.
This can be damaging to both girls and boys as it not only limits their potential but also prevents them from empathizing with and understanding those of a different gender. These friendships can be very important in a child’s development as well as it helps them form a world view that is more balanced and banks in on the other side’s experiences as well.
Another negative way some girl and boy friendships are perceived is to sexualizing the children at an age where they should be only thinking about what toy to play with next. Parents partake in this “harmless” joking around where they associate the two children as girlfriend or boyfriend and therefore not only reinforce the idea that this is the only relationship they can engage in but also makes the prospect of such friendships uninviting to children who feel ashamed or embarrassed by the thought.
When boys and girls play together they also learn how to deal with conflict resolution through the eyes of the other gender and can eventually help them engage and communicate with their colleagues and peers as they grow up and work towards becoming functional and contributing members of society.
However, one of the most surprising benefits of fostering these friendships include a study that revealed that parents hold a seemingly harmless gender bias when it comes to their children. It revealed that parents routinely underestimated their girl’s motor skills and abilities while they were still infants but overestimated the same skills of baby boys at the same age. This shows that parents unconsciously and unknowingly may be limiting the potential of little girls as a perceived trait of their gender.
Therefore by fostering friendships between little girls and little boys not only do parents gain insight into their own parenting techniques but the children also learn to question their own rigidly assigned roles