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So accustomed are we to gender segregation in modern society that many parents wonder whether it’s normal or healthy for boys and girls to play together and be friends.

Is it healthy for boys and girls to be friends?

Not only is it harmless for boys and girls to be friends, but it can be extremely beneficial for kids to form cross-gender friendships and is something we should encourage. Gender segregation isn’t a good thing. The way we encourage separation between the genders while indoctrinating boys and girls into separate cultures with different sets of ideas and beliefs can cause all sorts of future problems.

Lack of familiarity is what gives rise to prejudice, stereotypes and sexism. Empathy, too, is an emotion largely dependent on familiarity – we extend it readily to people who are familiar and seem like ‘one of us,’ yet revoke it just as quickly when others seem strange or alien to us. So encouraging cross-gender friendships in childhood promotes empathy and compassion between the genders. It’s one of the best ways to fight sexism and gender conflict in society, and helps ensure that boys and girls grow up to treat one another with compassion and respect.

Why parents have concerns about cross-gender friendships

There are two main reasons parents are concerned about friendships between boys and girls, both of them related to sexuality:

1. Boy-girl friendships might stir sexual feelings
Some parents are concerned about the potential sexual situations that might arise with boys and girls hanging out together. While such a thought may make parents uncomfortable, the truth is that even if it does occur, sexual play and experimentation are a normal aspect of growing up, and this poses no threat so long as parents don’t react to it in a negative way. Prohibiting interaction between genders out of a fear of sexual activity isn’t very practical, and prohibiting cross-gender companionship doesn’t eliminate sexual curiosity or the propensity to engage in sexual play, it merely ensures it occurs in same-sex pairings that parents are apt to find even more taboo and disturbing.

Secondly, (and this might surprise you), but males and females are capable of hanging out and just being friends, especially in childhood. This is also a concern that a bit of parental supervision can take care of, and if you can’t manage this, then you have little control over what your child does regardless. You certainly shouldn’t discourage cross-gender friendships out of an irrational paranoia over the possibility of sexual play.

2. Fear that a boy who plays with girls might be gay
The other concern, ironically, is a perfect mirror image of the first one: The fear that a boy who likes to hang out with girls is gay, or that a girl who plays with boys isn’t feminine enough or might be a lesbian. Whenever a child eschews the traditional gender norms and stereotypes, or seems to prefer playing with the opposite gender, adults start trying to read the tea leaves and infer all sorts of unwarranted assumptions.

This, too, is another irrational fear. It doesn’t mean a child is gay just because a boy likes to hang out and play with girls, or vice versa. Some boys are simply more quiet and gentle by nature, and therefore might prefer the company of girls. And some girls who like rough and tumble play or sports and are especially active may see girly activities as outright torture, and prefer to hang out with boys. These preferences exist separate and apart from sexual orientation. Plenty of boys who like ballet or hanging out with girls grow up to be straight, and many boys who like football and rough play turn out to be gay. These unique preferences for certain activities are nothing but social stereotypes anyway.

You shouldn’t go around trying to infer a child’s sexuality or gender identity based on their personal likes and interests. A child’s sexual orientation is something that’s out of your control anyway, (it was forged long ago in the womb), so try not to fret about it.

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