Girls are weighed down by restrictions and boys with demands – two equally harmful disciplines

Girls are weighed down by restrictions and boys with demands – two equally harmful disciplines

“The child is the father of the man.” This insight by poet William Wordsworth points to the crucial impact of early childhood experiences in shaping the adults we grow into. The diverse ways boys and girls are raised play a key role in their developmental trajectories. While restrictions for girls and demands for boys may aim to protect, they often end up being equally harmful in impact.

As a society, we need to foster environments where children can thrive as individuals, unburdened by limiting gender roles. The schisms created early on have lifelong implications not just for the individual but also for families and communities.

Girls navigating an Ocean of ‘Can’ts’

From an early age, rules and prohibitions give girls the message that the world is filled with dangers. “Don’t go out alone at night”, “Don’t talk to strangers”, “Don’t wear short skirts” – while valid advice regarding safety, the onus falls excessively on girls to safeguard themselves. The ambient anxiety that they internalize has lasting effects on confidence and agency. It becomes second nature to seek permission, deferring always to the protection of male family members.

The restriction of movement and friendships aims to preserve ‘purity’ and reputation. Yet it severely limits life experiences critical for individual growth. Educational opportunities may also be curtailed, seen as unnecessary for future domestic roles. Early marriage gets rationalized through a protective logic, even as it disrupts girls’ childhood through adult burdens.

Inside the home, the hugely disproportionate burden of household work falls on young girls. From dishes and laundry to child and elderly care – they bear responsibilities akin to adults, while being treated as immature dependents. Resentment simmering beneath the surface erupts later through mental health issues or rebellious behaviour.

The most disturbing outcome is how women internalize the restrictions, failing to recognize the systemic oppression at play. They replicate similar norms on their own daughters due to internalized patriarchal conditioning. With freedom of choice denied for decades, many women lose touch with authentic needs and aspirations.

Boys weighted down by the burdens of Manhood

“Boys don’t cry. Man up. Provide for your family.” From early childhood, boys absorb messages equating masculinity with emotional toughness, financial autonomy and family responsibility. Vulnerability gets strongly discouraged as weakness, leading to psychological distancing from difficult emotions. This conditions adult men to repress their feelings, being more prone to aggressive outbursts, risk-taking behaviours and disconnected relationships.

The imperative to ‘be a man’ also manifests as social demands to succeed financially and professionally at all costs. As youth, boys may sacrifice friendships, creative interests and work-life balance in their drive to achieve status and stability.

Another distorted manifestation is authoritarian attitudes within families. Sons witnessing the domineering dynamics of their fathers often replicate similarly controlling behaviour with siblings, future partners and eventually their own children.

The maternal figures enabling such dysfunction are themselves trapped within internalized patriarchal narratives of the men as providers and ultimate decision-makers. Sonsfail to imbibe values of partnership, empathy and responsible fatherhood. Breaking unhealthy intergenerational patterns requires soul-searching not just from men but also the women in their lives.

Towards Liberating Childhoods

As one grapples with the harsh impacts of limiting gender disciplines, the mind turns to visions of equality – where children could be raised with balanced protections and freedoms. Where daughters can feel safe to develop strong voices and unapologetically pursue their dreams. Where sons can grow up emotionally connected and vulnerable without fears of judgment. Where none has to disproportionately carry the weight of gender roles not of their own choosing.

Reform starts at home but needs policy support such as sensitization campaigns questioning gender stereotypes, changes in school curricula incorporating gender-progressive texts. Grassroots women’s groups and youth networks can collaborate with civil society in bottom-up advocacy. Quotas for women’s representation in local governance can bring decision-making powers to those facing the brunt of inequalities.

Legal provisions for mandatory schooling of girls, gender-equal inheritance laws also provide structural impetus towards positive social norms. Comprehensive interventions addressing economic barriers, safety issues and healthcare gaps enable marginalized groups to secure basic rights.

A higher vision calls for moving beyond reactive measures towards proactively nurturing children’s growth as balanced, creative individuals grounded in humanistic values. More play and artistic opportunities, free personality development workshops build self-awareness from early life itself. Schools can actively teach emotional intelligence, empathy, healthy communication unlike the pure academic focus today. Building caring mindsets and self-esteem safeguards youth from future suffering and disempowerment.

With greater social investments in human capital starting young, children themselves will organically challenge residual inequalities still persisting from older times. Raising empowered girls and emotionally sensible boys promises much gain – not just for families but for communities and nations progressing towards just, equitable futures.

The winding road ahead requires sustained political will and collective responsibility. As we walk as one human family, we may hope to leave less troubled legacies for children crossing tender bridges into adulthood.

Dear Readers,

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