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Gender neutral parenting debate fueled by conflicting analysis of scientific data

by AirTalk®

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Oliver H., 42, a married federal employee on 6-month paternity leave, reads to his twin 14-month-old daughters Alma (R) and Lotte at his home on August 31, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

With growing awareness of gender fluidity in children (see this month's National Geographic for instance), neuroscientists such as Debra Soh are pushing back against the corresponding trend of gender-neutral parenting.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times last week, the York University researcher argues: "Offering kids the opportunity to pursue what they’d like, freed from societal expectations, is an undeniably positive thing — whether it has to do with toys, clothing, or their future aspirations. But the scientific reality is that it’s futile to treat children as blank slates with no predetermined characteristics. Biology matters."

However, not all academics make the same conclusions about the scientific data. Professor Melissa Luke of Syracuse University said while neuroscience can map gender differences in the brain, she says gender-normative socialization begins as soon as a baby is born. Luke, who teaches school counselors how to work with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth, argues children’s brains are constantly shaped by the outside world, so it is almost impossible to argue that biology alone determines a child’s gender identity.

What has been your experience as either a parent or son or daughter when it comes to gender normative or gender neutral parenting?


Debra Soh, Ph.D., candidate in Sexual Neuroscience, York University; columnist for “Playboy” magazine; she tweets @debra_soh

Melissa Luke, professor and coordinator of the School Counseling program Syracuse University,  specializing in counseling for LGBT youth

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