Parenting in the Digital Age - Technology and Gender

by Samantha on January 5, 2013

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Gender biases still exist as any parent can tell you. As parents, we are often the first ones to unwittingly perpetuate the problem by assigning stereotypical behaviours to our children. Did your son want that truck because you’ve been buying him books about trucks and reading them to him repeatedly? Did your daughter ask for that princess costume because of her innate sense of “being a girl” in the classic sense of the phrase, or did she continue on the path set out by us as parents, which reinforced her love of all things frilly? What are the factors that contribute to the subjects of technology and gender? Nature or nurture? Which one is it?

I’ve written about this question before and - full disclosure - I believe that it’s nature all the way. As the parent of four kids - two boys and two girls - I’ve seen firsthand the manifestation of how the sexes behave, particularly from an early age (before any type of conditioning one way or another can occur). Nevertheless, I appreciate that the jury is out in the minds of many parents and academics alike, and the answer to this question will differ depending upon whom you are speaking.

While environmental factors definitely play into a child’s likes and dislikes, I truly think that boys and girls are “hardwired” to a considerable degree. “Boys will be boys,” as they say, and girls - well, lets just say that they’re sugar and spice and then some - much of the time.

Regardless of which side of the fence that you sit on the topic of nature vs. nurture, there’s no arguing the fact that our kids’ behaviour is being influenced by technology. In this day and age of 24-hour connectivity - any place, any time, anywhere - there are a myriad of choices and ways in which our children can communicate. Whether it’s through proactive interaction or passively accepting the stream of information and entertainment options available, none of us are immune, particularly our children.

Kids at computer

In my blog series, Parenting in the Digital Age, my goal has been to look at different aspects of parenting and, with each of these aspects, investigate how the intersection of technology fares on both the parent and child. In this installment, the topic of technology and gender is addressed.

Dr. Clare Brett is Associate Professor & Associate Chair, Graduate Studies in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at the University of Toronto/Ontario Institute of Studies in Education (OISE). As an expert in the field of education, she was a natural choice for questions relating to children’s capabilities for learning, as well as how the sexes relate to technology. In particular, I was interested in learning about technology and gender and whether or not there was scientific proof of the “nature” side of the “nature/nurture” argument. She provided me some general information regarding technology, gender and learning. Here are some snippets from our discussion:

Q. 1. (MMM) Are there proven studies about how girls and boys learn? Do boys and girls learn differently? Are there any studies or statistics that prove or disprove this hypothesis?

A. 1. (Dr. Brett) Yes, there is a long history of research in education looking at gender differences as one factor in how children learn. There are years of data on this [and] some recurring patterns: online for example, girls tend to write longer pieces of text and boys shorter but more often.  Boys have been shown to have more interest in patterns, games, abstract rules and spatial sense.  Girls tend toward more social ways of relating, but also are more mature earlier and more socially aware than boys.  No one has demonstrated conclusively that these are genetic vs .environmental differences but they are fairly commonly seen (because we support this culturally—treating babies differently, dressing, colours, toys etc. are all gender structured) so influence practice.

Q.2 Is the stereotype that boys have more of an acuity for technology true, in your estimation? Can you give some examples?  

A.2. The stereotype was attached during the point in technology development where computers had less user-oriented interfaces and where programming was required to do many things—it looked math like so boys seemed to gravitate toward it and girls didn’t.  These days computer interfaces are intuitive and user friendly. Girls use them just as much as boys, but still for slightly different things—boys more about gaming, girls into social networking.

Q.3. What trends are you seeing with respect to how education is geared to the sexes, if any? Is there still a perception amongst educators that boys and girls have different learning abilities?

A.3. Yes, that exists, but largely public schools still have co-ed education and teachers just have those expectations of gender differences built into what they see.

Q.4. How are educators addressing technology in the classroom and between the sexes? 

A.4. Single gender schools [are] a popular way to deal with differences, particularly during adolescence.  Separating girls and boys for English and math instruction showed improvements in grades for both.

As you can see from the information that Dr. Brett provided, there is definitely scientific evidence to back up the fact that girls and boys indeed learn differently. This being the case, one has to wonder how the learning process is further affected (either positively or negatively) via the method - in this case, technology. Is the medium indeed the message? Does staring at a screen affect the sexes in different ways? As the methodology of both work and play evolves over time, parents are forced to consider these questions. The implications of findings that support the idea of different learning capabilities when it comes to technology and gender seem evident. As the tools used in the classroom continue to include various aspects of digital technology, we as parents have not choice but to keep a close eye on the educational methods being employed by our schools so that our children - regardless of their gender - get the best instruction that they can.

Assuming that boys and girls indeed learn differently, what tactics should schools and educators employ to make the classroom learning experience more effective for both sexes? Provide your suggestions in the comments below.

Image courtesy of www.elllo.org

 

 

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