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Kids who don't conform to gender roles suffer abuse

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Non conforming child's play can lead to abuse and later PTSD, finds Harvard stud

Children who don’t conform to gender roles when it comes to childhood play and other activities are found to be at high risk for abuse and later develop PTSD. A new study finds increased risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse, in a study led by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) that happens to kids who choose activities considered outside the alleged norm for their sex.

The study is the first to look at the role gender nonconformity plays in contributing to child abuse and emotional trauma that can eventually manifest with risky behaviors in early adulthood.

The study authors estimate that 1 in 10 children under age 11 are at risk because they might like toys, activities, or choose opposite gender roles during game playing.

Abuse suffered by children who don’t conform to typical male or female patterns during childhood was found to come mainly from parents and other adults in the household.

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Lead study author Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at
said in a media release, “Parents need to be aware that discrimination against gender nonconformity affects one in ten kids, affects kids at a very young age, and has lasting impacts on health."

The message seems to be if your little girl likes to play with trucks, keep your comments to yourself. Criticizing a child who chooses to play with toys or enjoys games ‘normally’ assigned to the opposite sex is bad parenting and puts them at risk for PTSD as adults.

The researchers found most of the children who suffered abuse before age 11 or heterosexual in adulthood.

Senior author S. Bryn Austin, associate professor in the Department of Society, Human Development, and Health at HSPH, and in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children's Hospital Boston, along with Roberts, studied data from questionnaires from nearly 9,000 young adults who enrolled in the longitudinal Growing Up Today study (GUTS) in 1996. Average age of the participants was 23.

Men who ranked in the top 10% of gender nonconformity reported higher rates of physical and sexual abuse before age 11. Between age 11 and 17 they were more likely to be the target of psychological abuse, compared to children considered to conform to typical gender roles. Women reported they suffered all forms of abuse. The participants were also screened for PTSD. The study found twice the incidence in adults abused during childhood linked to gender nonconforming. The finding highlights the need to identify kids at risk for abuse early.

"Childhood Gender Nonconformity: A Risk Indicator for Childhood Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress in Youth"
Andrea L. Roberts, Margaret Rosario, Healther L. Corliss, Karestan C. Koenen, S. Bryn Austin.
Pediatrics, doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-1804, online February 20, 2012