Do Fathers Treat Their Sons and Daughters Differently?

Do parents treat their sons and daughters differently

?While childrearing practices can vary widely across different cultures and as views about gender differences change over time, there do seem to be some clear consistencies in the way boys and girls are treated, especially during their first few years of life.   According to Albert Bandura's social modelling theory, parents often have clear gender stereotypes about "appropriate" behaviour for different genders and rely on punishment and rewards to ensure their children abide by these gender expectations.   Boys are discouraged from playing with dolls or acting "effeminately" while girls are prevented from doing any physically risky activities. 

Some studies suggest that mothers talk more with their daughters and actively prevent them from any activity that might lead to their being injured.   On the other hand, both mothers and fathers appear more prone to engage in "rough and tumble" play (RTP for short) with boys rather than girls.    There also appear to be gender differences in how parents respond to emotional outbursts. In a 2005 research study, fathers were found to be more receptive to daughters when they showed submissive emotions or prosocial behaviour while they were more likely to respond to boys when they acted out or showed temper tantrums.    

Granted, it is often difficult to do this kind of research considering that most studies looking at how parents interact with their young children have focused on mothers rather than fathers.   Also, parents tend to be reluctant in admitting that they treat their sons and daughters differently, especially in an era of greater equality between the sexes.  For this reason, depending on self-report alone tends to provide a distorted view of the way parents actually raise their children and instill gender roles and values into them. 

A new study published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience provides one of the first in-depth analyses at how fathers interact with their children and what this might mean in terms of brain physiology.   A team of researchers led by James K. Rilling of Emory University's Center for Translational Social Neuroscience recruited 69 men  (average age of 33.0) who were parents of  children aged one to two years.   Thirty-four of the fathers had a daughter and thirty-five had a son with no significant demographic differences between the two groups.

To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.





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