What games tell us about boys and girls

2011-03-03 00:00

“ALRIGHT, let’s check out those arm muscles­,” Sam, my husband, said to our children­. Three-year-old Anna slapped her elbow on the table and squeezed her face.

“Hmmm,” Sam said grimly, “feels like a marshmallow. Keep working on it. Next.” Anna burst out laughing, as seven-year-old Lael pulled up her chair and took her place.

Sam poked Lael’s arm. “Just like a biscuit. Try harder next time,” he said, as she giggled­ her way out the door. “Next.”

Five-year-old Joah stepped forward. He rolled up his sleeves, squatted his legs and clenched both his arms. His brow was sweating and his hands were tense, as Sam examined his biceps.

“Hmm, very good, very good, they feel like … a rock.”

Joah looked away as his face cracked open with pleasure.

“I’ve just read some research,” Sam explained after the contest, “that was conducted all over the world, on children’s games. And it claims that the most popular children’s game, across all cultures, all nations­ and with both genders is a version of Sharky Sharky.

“You know the game where you’re allowed­ to cross the shark’s water safely if you’re wearing a certain colour and if you’re not, then you get chased.

“And the conclusion of the researchers was that girls love that game, the world over, because it draws attention to their presentation and boys love that game, the world over, because it draws attention to their strength.”

It was an interesting theory, but I wasn’t convinced.

That afternoon a group of boys and girls came over to play. The boys set out their army gear and divided their plastic animals between the war zones, while the girls played dress-up.

They put on make-up, high-heel shoes and scarves and, when they looked as good as they possibly could, they decided to dance, right where the boys were playing. Then, when they got kicked out of the war zone, they practised ballet. They put on tights and leotards, stockings and buns, lipstick and rosy blush.

“I think that research may have a point,” I said to Sam later. “And I don’t mind if boys and girls are like that, as long as we teach them to keep it in check.

“We can encourage our girls to make the most of their appearances, without them becoming obsessed with their looks and we can encourage our boys to work on their strength, without them adoring themselves, without them becoming,” I concluded with a laugh, “one of those men at the gym who can’t take their eyes off their muscles.”

A few days later I walked into the kitchen and sat down for breakfast. Joah was staring at his arms.

“Mom,” he said patting his biceps, “I think that these are actually stronger than rock.”

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