This week is Children’s Mental Health week for charity Place2Be. They provide mental health support for students in schools, training support to those who work with children and counselling placements.
Some of the shocking statistics on their website include:
- 1 in 8 children have a diagnosable mental health condition, many of which can continue into adulthood.
- 50% of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14.
- Among teenagers, rates of depression and anxiety have increased by 70% in the past 25 years.
Why am I telling you about this? Because I firmly believe that pressures to fit within strict gender stereotypes are harmful to children’s mental health. We’ve blogged previously about how a perceived failure to conform narrow gender stereotypes can have horrendous consequences for adults.
Telling children they are ‘wrong’ for liking a certain colour or toy, or mocking them for their interest in a sport of activity that is typically seen as for the ‘other’, can affect a child’s sense of identity and self-worth at a hugely important time in their life for their self-development.
We all know children in the playground can be the worst for taunting and teasing other children, which is what can make is so hard. But children learn stereotypes from the world around them, and that includes the adults in their lives. If we change the way we talk and behave, or have conversations with our children when they make stereotypical comments, we can influence things for the better.
And yes, that includes the clothes we choose to dress our children in. In his amazing show, No More Boys and Girls, Dr Javid Abdelmoneim showed the link between gender-typical slogans on clothing and the way children perceived themselves. If you didn't catch it when it aired, I strongly advise you watch it, the results were astounding and horrifying in equal measure. This highlights the need for gender-neutral children's clothing, that doesn't pigeonhole kids or categorise them.
Remember the time a US television presented mocked Prince George for his love of ballet? I loved the response from dancers doing the most amazing flash mob in New York to protest!
Between us, we can make a difference to improve the outcome for children’s mental health and their future lives. Take a moment to have a think about the stereotypes you hold (we all do, it’s perfectly normal!) and how you can change one thing for the better.
Let me know in the comments!