How can modern parents raise the next generation to be free from corrosive gender and racial stereotypes? By the time children start elementary school, gender and race shape their lives in many ways that parents might want to prevent. As early as first grade, girls are less likely than boys to think members of their own gender are “really, really smart.” And by just age three, white children in the United States implicitly endorse stereotypes that African-American faces are angrier than white faces.
These stereotypes go deeper than children’s beliefs – they can also shape a child’s behavior. By age six, girls are less likely than boys to choose activities that seem to require them to be really smart, which could contribute to the development of long-term gender differences in science and math achievement.
Why do stereotypes develop in such young children? As a professor of early cognitive and social development, I have seen my research reveal how surprisingly subtle features of language contribute to a child’s tendency to view the world through the lens of social stereotypes.