Get Started Now to Begin Unschooling in September!

Take the leap into unschooling!
Take the leap into unschooling!

Maybe you have been thinking about, reading about, talking about and even researching unschooling but you aren't sure whether you are ready to make that leap for your family... I remember the day my son and I broke away from schooling, mid-school year, and leaped into the void of my son living and learning naturally, as nature intended. It was exhilarating and frightening for me at the same time! As the day began and the time that he would normally leave for school came and went,  I saw the joy and relief on my son's face as we became involved in the various indoor projects and outdoor adventures we planned for our first day of learning without school! To watch my son playing, smiling, laughing and exuding joy provided me with the most profound realization and evidence that what we were doing was natural, fully congruent with his physical, psychological, cognitive, social and neurological development and right for him holistically in every way! Over the next few weeks and months of deep connection, of my son feeling free to meet all of his biological needs on his own body's timetable, of him following his passions through play and exploration, of us being active in nature and of us becoming involved with community activities and homeschool groups, I couldn't imagine life any other way for my child.

Why unschooling is right for your children

The most paramount reasons why unschooling is best for children are:

  • Unschooling supports the parent-child attachment relationship by allowing parents to be sure their children's biological, psychological, intellectual, creative and social needs are being met. Not even a fraction of these needs can be met in traditional schools and over time, the parent-child attachment connection becomes injured and may become distant or adversarial. Our children need to be with us, their families, and involved in their world communities, not imprisoned behind concrete walls with strangers and other distressed "inmates" all day.
  • Unschooling is in line with nature's intent for how children learn: Through play. Youth of all ages, from infants through adolescents learn through play: Vigorous, passionate, dramatic, loud, rough, exploratory, secretive, quiet and adventurous play that occurs alone, with friends or with family. The force-feeding process of indoctrinating children in school settings with curriculum, control and confinement is not actual learning, but only conditioning under the threat of punishment or deprivation. Over time, this conditioning process causes many children to become exhausted and emotionally distressed or to run on "automatic pilot". Sooner or later, children shut down, become apathetic to actual learning, act defiant, or, in an attempt to obediently acquiesce to the curriculum, disconnect from spontaneously and authentically reveling in their true interests and passions. Far too many children are diagnosed as "learning disabled" or as having the fraudulent "ADHD" label because they are simply starved of play.
  • Unschooling allows children to pursue, express and fulfill their own unique passions, gifts and offerings to the world and to live and learn in a way that is right for their unique time table, learning style, temperament and intelligence.

In short, unschooling is simply a new name for ancient wisdom; a title put on how our peaceful indigenous tribal ancestors guided their children's learning for Millennia prior to being disrupted by the institution of agriculture, civilization and the Industrial revolution.

What do we do all day?

The key to unschooling is to live and to enjoy life at a balanced pace that works for your family. Allowing children to spend time playing and pursuing their passions and interests is the primary foundation of unschooling. Exposing children to a variety and diversity of experiences, materials, places, people, arts, community events, social opportunities and activities will help children discover new interests and hidden talents. Some children enjoy a more structured schedule of activities, while others need to be completely free with their exploration and creative inventions in order to thrive. Most children enjoy a balance of both a structured and a free schedule.

Unschooling is right for all types of children and their unique learning styles because its foundation is allowing children to be driven by their individual needs, interests and goals. The possibilities are endless as to how your children can spend their unschooling days! For some children, this might appear more academic and "schoolish" to the outside observer. Other youth might choose to spend their days in nature building forts, climbing trees and observing animal habitats. Some children will read, write, build, paint, craft, cook or play music most of the time. Many unschooled youth have volunteered, attended college classes, traveled or opened up their own businesses. Others still may appear to be playing all day without any semblance of academic accoutrement! Wonderfully, ALL of these diverse ways of learning lead to preparing youth for their own unique life paths and describe unschooling- as long as they are child-led.

A common approach when families begin unschooling is for parents to try to fill each day or even hour with a cornucopia of scheduled activities to convince themselves that learning is in process. Although this will work for some families, over time this approach could potentially burn out children and families. Overtime, exhausted and burnt out families may find that they are doing less and less that is actually enriching, fulfilling and adventurous, to the point where the days become mundane and errand-focused, with little social activity for the children and sedentary screen time as the focus of the day. This slump often causes youth to believe that they should return to school in order to "get socialization" and activity. What a loss to escape and then return back to an environment that harms children! It is important for us as parents to assist our children in continually exploring and finding the resources, opportunities and social connections they need in order for unschooling to meet their needs as nature intended.

Why isn't screen time considered play?

Some parents might argue that  video games are the "passion" of their children. Many families who unschool or who are considering unschooling have encountered the trend of parents allowing children to spend hours on a daily basis playing video games, watching TV, texting or posting on social media. However, screen time is not playand in fact, screen time may be as stressful to the child's holistic health as sitting at a desk in a classroom all day.

Dramatic play invigorates all parts and processes of the brain, stimulates creativity, feeds the imagination, fosters critical thinking skills, builds crucial face-to-face social skills, contributes to mental health and often involves the entire body moving, whether gently or intensely. Physically active play exercises the muscles, tendons, joints, spine and bones, long distance and periphery vision, and supports all systems of the body including the respiratory, digestive and circulatory systems.

To the contrary, young children who become involved with video games often spend very little time in dramatic play or they abandon dramatic play completely as early as age six. I have seen a trend in my clinical work of children who literally do not know how to play; their imaginations are stifled and weakened due to constant media saturation (in addition to school busywork). Dramatic play is a crucial requirement for optimal child development.

Dramatic play and reading paper books excites the imagination and stimulates the entire brain. Video games, TV, social media and texting shut down processes and parts of a child's brain, especially those related to critical thinking. Research has shown that violent media may negatively impact a child's development of empathy. Screen media actually has an effect on children's neurological dopamine reward system similar to heroin or other drug addiction. Media offers instant gratification, causing some children to feel that dramatic play seems tedious in comparison to the reflexive and addictive attraction to checking their phone, updating their social media status, playing live online games or vegging in front of the TV. The dopamine crash of turning off the TV or the screen can lead to depressive symptoms and anxious restlessness. Children realize that once the video game or screen is turned off, there are no gains translated into "real life". How do children often attempt to remedy the affects of these depressive, anxious symptoms? With more screen time!

Additionally, consider the physical effects on the body of being sedentary, slumped, with the vision fixed on a small concentrated screen and the fingers performing the same small motions over and over, sometimes hundreds and hundreds of times: While research has found that reading a paper book is easy on the eyes, screens cause eye strain and restrict periphery vision. While children who read can move around and read in a variety of body positions, indoors and outside, screen time often fixes a child's body to very limited and unhealthy positions. Repetitive tendon stress injuries may result from excessive texting or video game usage. Sedentary behavior negatively affects every system of the body, affecting overall holistic health.

My recommendation is that you treat screen usage like you would treat any other addictive agent: Either unplug completely or discuss with your family a way to keep media usage in its place, with the priority being "real life" activities, time in nature and time with family and friends. In our home, through out our unschooling journey, my son spent the majority of his time in "real life", off screens. As a grown unschooler now, at age 20, he is pleased with all he has been able to accomplish and pursue in his life as a result of prioritizing his "real life" time.

How do I get started?

Getting started with unschooling often feels daunting and overwhelming at first, but the steps are simple:

  • If you are a single working parent like I was while unschooling, the first step will be securing reliable child care. When I began unschooling my son, we literally had a different caregiver for every day of the week just to make unschooling happen! I was also able to arrange times when I could bring my son to work with me. Start by looking for childcare within your family or circle of friends. Begin reaching out to the homeschool community and making friends- Maybe someone will be willing to assist you with child care? Consider building a part time home business to allow you more home time.
  • If your child is still in school, research and learn your state's homeschool laws, as they vary from state to state. In most states, you will be required to send a "letter of intent" to your school district's superintendent or to a private school that agrees to act as your "participating agency". Some states require that you write up a curriculum while others do not require a curriculum. You can still unschool even if your state requires a curriculum. The law might require certain academics to be included in your homeschooling program, but generally the law doesn't strictly dictate how your child must pursue those subjects. Remember, how your child pursues learning a certain subject does NOT need to look anything like schooling. Only provide to the school district what the law requires, no less and no more.
  • Research local homeschool and unschool groups and events in your area and attend as many of these with your children as possible until you find one or more that your children enjoy. Network with families and collect contact information so that your children can set up play dates with the youth they meet. Attend these groups regularly.
  • Begin immediately keeping a log book and take photos to document some highlights of each day that you can use as part of your end of the year portfolio that is often required by most state homeschool laws. Collect any written, mathematic or artistic samples, as well as brochures, maps or flyers to add to your children's portfolios.
  • Whether you are new to learning without schooling or whether you have already been homeschooling and are transitioning to unschooling, allow your children the freedom to play and follow their interests. Play with your children and share some of your own interests with them. Make sure to focus on having fun and deepening your connection, not on trying to "turn" play and activities into "teaching moments" or into something "educational". Everything your child does constitutes learning; it is up to the individual child to determine how he or she wants to respond to, express and apply that learning.
  • Get outside, explore nature and get involved in community events and activities as a family and with other homeschooling families.
  • Consider starting a homeschool or unschool group with your children based on one of their interests.

For more step by step instructions and a list of ideas for specific materials and activities and how to document for the end of the year portfolio, please view my six YouTube videos, especially, So You Want to Unschool Your Child or Teen? 4 of 6 (Community Resources and Materials) and So You Want to Unschool Your Child or Teen? 5 of 6 (Documentation).

Unschooling is Nature's Intent For Children's Learning

The freedom that unschooling will allow your family, even if you are a working parent, is tremendous, and can't be believed until you experience that freedom! When you take the time to "deschool" yourself and challenge your beliefs about what learning should or shouldn't look like, you will begin to see learning through nature's lens.

What determines nature's intent? The conditions that allow an organism to thrive!

Children thrive when their needs are met, when they have close, connected and secure attachments with their parents and families, when they are allowed to let play and passion drive their time and focus, when they are allowed to form naturally mixed age friendships with diverse people, when they are active and engaged members of their communities and when they are able to fully experience all developmental stages of childhood on their own timetable. When children thrive, they learn to the best of their abilities. When children thrive, they naturally meet their full potentials and mature into successful adults!

For further information, please read my following articles:

Laurie A. Couture Responds to Unschooling and “ADHD” Questions from Anderson Episode

What Is It Like to Be Unschooled? Interview With An Unschooled Teen

NOT-Back-To-School: Unschooling is Nature’s “Curriculum”

Unschooling Without TV and Video Games: A Freeing Experience

For a comprehensive and in depth look at children's needs and the harm done to children of traditional schooling, I invite you to read my book, Instead of Medicating and Punishing: Healing the Causes of Our Children's Acting-Out Behavior by Parenting and Educating the Way Nature Intended.

I am available for supportive parenting coaching and consulting to get you started on your family's unschooling journey- I will even research your state's homeschool laws for you and assist you in writing your Letter of Intent! Learn more at:  http://www.laurieacouture.com/coaching or book your consult with me now!

The Gender Politics of Toys Part III: The Lammily "Average is Beautiful" Doll

Where is the male counterpart? Do only girls need proportionally human dolls? (Photo via Lammily.com) When I wrote the articles, The Gender Politics of Toys Part I and The Gender Politics of Toys Part II, I had not envisioned the need for a three part series. However, despite my advocacy for true gender equality and my bringing attention to society ignoring the suffering and needs of boys while championing girls, the media has not brought attention to this problem. In fact, in the latest toy news, the powerful mainstream media has been assisting a Pittsburg artist, Nickolay Lamm, in stimulating the crowd funding for a new alternative to the Barbie doll: Lammily, with the slogan, "Average is Beautiful".

At least Barbie isn't THIS drastic in promoting impossible body image standards! Why aren't parents concerned how these standards affect their sons?

Although this is a very positive development, it doesn't take a thinking, socially conscious person long to realize that this female doll has no male counterpart. Buying into the myth that girls and women suffer more pressure (and thus more angst) to look a certain way, the Lammily doll ignores that boys, also, need an action figure doll that looks more proportionally human. Would the mainstream media had spread this story had Lamm created a male doll instead of a female doll?

Male action figure dolls are often far more drastic than Barbie in their unattainable body proportions. Yet parents, researchers and society as a whole does not seem at all concerned with how these dolls affect their sons' self esteem or body image. It seems as if parents don't concern themselves at all with the often secret angst boys feel about their bodies and body image, being trained by the media to believe that only girls feel pressure to meet a certain standard of physical beauty. I wonder, how many parents of sons have ever wondered if their sons feel they are beautiful?  How many mothers and fathers actually tell their sons they are beautiful?

My son and I watched a news interview with Lamm and in response, I sent him the following email:

Hi Nickolay,

I am a researcher, mental health counselor, author and mother of a 20 year old son. I have been working with youth for two decades. I have been trusted with the angst of thousands of boys and girls as young as toddlers and as old as college age. I am disheartened that your attempt at making more realistic dolls has excluded boys, seeming to cater to what is politically correct in society: A focus on girls while ignoring boys.

My son and I cringed at a comment you made in a news story, "If I can feel inadequate at times, I can't imagine what women have to go through who are subject to much higher beauty standards than us men".

We disagree and we discussed this prior to me writing. As a woman myself, as the mother of a son and as a child and adolescent mental health counselor, I want you to be aware that boys and young men suffer incredible pressure to live up to impossible standards of physical attractiveness, all while they get the message their entire lives that "boys can't be beautiful" and "girls are more beautiful than boys".

As a woman and when I was a girl, I suffered no more pressures or insecurities than my male friends or partners suffered; in fact I bore far less burden because I am female- As an adult, I was able to heal from those youthful insecurities with supports and affirmations that men are not provided in this society. While our society is set up to remind girls and women how beautiful they are, boys are rarely told they are beautiful. They are only told they aren't desirable unless they have the bodies of ripped body builders.

Have you looked at Barbie's Ken doll or any of the action figure dolls for boys? The musculature, groin and body proportions on the male dolls are just as impossible as Barbie. It perplexes me when I see people in our society, especially men, who are in a position to stand up for both girls and boys and their suffering, but who instead present gender issues in a false "female victim"/"male privilege" manner, ignoring the equal (or in many cases worse) suffering of males in our society.

If you had focused your entire project on an "average is beautiful" male action figure doll, not a female doll, you would not have received the attention of the powerful media outlets that you received. They are politically motivated and politically charged and focusing on boys as victims is not something they accept.

Why not work for true gender equality and put out an "average is beautiful" (and yes, use the word "beautiful") male action figure doll?

-Laurie A. Couture

The Gender Politics of Toys, Part II: Shunning Boys and Turning Lego Pink

In Part I of this post, I discussed that the toy company, GoldieBlox recently made the disappointing marketing move of reacting to pink saturation and gender polarization in the toy market by producing yet another pink and pastel toy specifically for girls. They further added insult to injury by producing a viral ad that not only plagiarized a song by The Beastie Boys, but the ad incited separatist, anti-boy attitudes and inflammatory lyrics claiming falsely that "everything else" in the toy stores (except pink princess accessories and dolls) "is for boys." Part II will focus on the contrast between the toy marketing of the 1970's and 1980's, which was more gender inclusive than previous decades, and the cultural shift of the 1990's and 2000's which led toy companies to disassociate from boys and "pink saturate" their products, causing a regression back to gender polarization.

The 1970's and 1980's: When the toy companies embraced gender inclusiveness

When I was a child in the mid-70's and 80's, there was less gender polarization in children's toys than there is today. I enjoyed playing with a diversity of toys and cared little about whether they were marketed to a specific age-group or to one sex or the other- My goal was simply to have fun and to augment my imagination with props!

Girls were being empowered in the 1970's and 1980's to do and become anything they chose. Girls were proudly working to their potential alongside their male peers, with both sexes rightfully being seen as valuable and capable. However, fast forward to the new Millennium, and gender polarization and stereotyping has become almost more extreme than in the 1950's!

Of course in the 70's and early 80's, there was left over, 1950's-esque gender stereotyping of toys by parents, teachers and advertisers. However, many toy companies were taking notice that children enjoyed playing with toys that cut across traditional gender stereotypes. Playskool, Fisher-Price and Playmobil, for example, were marketing gender neutral toys that encouraged dramatic and creative play between the sexes. Girls were increasingly empowered to play hard, wildly and with any toys they pleased, allowing girls to move freely and fluidly between forms of play and types of toys once designed specifically for one sex or the other.

Boys, on the other hand, were still strictly relegated by parents and teachers to remain in their gender role, with minimal movement. No doubt toy companies realized that they would sell more toys if boys were included in the efforts to empower children to play with any toys they desired!

Toy companies hit upon a financial goldmine with two major transformations in toy marketing that broke down gender stereotypes:

1. By 1984, government regulations on children's television and on advertising to children were deregulated, and toy companies began to market and merchandise and toys to children based on movie and TV characters rather than on gender stereotypes. (The negative affect commercialization has had on children's creativity and neurological development is beyond the scope of this post). This shocking move by the federal government and the subsequent unprecedented marketing strategy was so financially successful that to this day, original 1980's movie and TV-themed toys still have pop-cult status that cross gender lines.

2. Toy companies in the 1980's made it "cool" and socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls. For young boys, there was My Buddy, a large doll that boys could haul along on all of their adventures. For pre-adolescent boys, "adopting" Cabbage Patch Kids became a wildly popular trend. Cabbage Patch Kids were among the first line of  popular "baby dolls" to offer male dolls, a new choice that seem to appeal to boys. Cabbage Patch Kids, which came with officially signed buttocks and mail-in adoption certificates, were so popular with both sexes that frantic parents and grandparents were forming mobs and riots in the toy aisles of stores, grabbing the dolls off the shelves!

Another factor in the trend towards gender neutrality in toys was that it wasn't as popular in the 1970's and 1980's to saturate toys, clothing and accessories in all pink. Girls had little interest in having every toy, stuffed animal, book, accessory and game modified with a "pink version". I recall that in my third grade class, we did a class poll about every child's favorite colors. Most of the class agreed that their favorite colors were either red or blue. The unpopular color pink received only two votes from our class of 20+ children, right alongside brown. Without the excessive pink saturation, children of both sexes had more toy and play options.

Although it was far from perfect, children of the 70's and 80's had a chance to ride the strongest wave of gender inclusiveness seen in United States pop cultural history. However, by the mid-1990's something went very wrong.

The late 1990's and 2000's: Elevating girls, shunning boys and turning the toys pink

Despite the solid empowered status of girls by the 90's, our culture  experienced a fierce wave of "Girl Power" sassiness with a strong anti-boy counterpart in the late 90's and the new Millennium. It seems counter-intuitive that political and social campaigns would attempt to separate and antagonize the relationship between the sexes or to elevate girls above boys. However, political and social groups in the mid-90's and early 2000's began to market an intensive, global "girl empowerment" paradigm that, either deliberately or inadvertently, elevated girls and their needs above boys and caused boys and their needs to be ignored, marginalized and pathologized. Girls were presented in the media as more intelligent, clever, competent, good, beautiful, strong, powerful, worthwhile and even more valuable than boys. It soon followed that girls were treated with more respect, compassion and positive regard by adults, institutions and even companies, than boys.

In every faction of society, people were quietly backing away from boys to champion girls. Organizations that traditionally served boys, such as the Boy Scouts, the Boys Club, the YMCA and Boy's Town USA all backed away from their "boy" focus and became co-ed and boy-quiet. Meanwhile, Girl Scouts rolled out their slogan, "The girl is first in Girl Scouts" and programs such as Girls Inc. and Girl Power! remained all about empowering only girls.

Marketers and advertisers realized that it was profitable to follow suit. Toy companies, movies, TV shows and clothing companies, seeing the potential for profit, jumped on the political bandwagon. In the 2000's, everything suddenly turned pink, and "girl-ness" was emphasized as separate from and better than "boy-ness". Girls began to be referred to as "princesses", "divas" and even "goddesses", and a mean-spirited and conceited attitude by girls was being portrayed and championed in the media and in advertising.

Companies began boasting about their focus on girls: American Girl currently states on their website that they "Celebrate girls and all that they can be", adding in their company statement that they "have a passion for who girls are today and who they can become tomorrow". What company "celebrates boys" or has "a passion" for boys? What company would dare admit it even if they did?

Although Lego has always produced toys that have been beloved by both boys and girls alike, Lego was one company that seemed to enjoy scaffolding the imagination of boys. Lego seemed to understand boys developmentally, as evidenced by the passion boys have for Lego sets, lines and even movies, well into adulthood. As the mother of a son and nephew who are enamored with Lego, it felt good to know there was still a toy company that seemed to focus on boys, as Barbie had been doing for girls for decades.

In early 2012, however, Lego withdraw from their association with boys. Although no parents or authors faulted Barbie or American Girl for focusing on girls, parents and authors criticized Lego for focusing on boys! Like the rest of society, Lego "pink-ified" their image and offered "Lego Friends" and tubs of pink Lego and Duplo bricks specifically to girls. Like the popular junior high kid who pulls away from her awkward, bullied friend, Lego realized, after pressure and campaigning from female-focused organizations, that association with the marginalized group- boys- isn't good for one's reputation.

Nerf, Tinker Toy, Mega Bloks, K'Nex, Lincoln Logs and other toy brands have also jumped on the "Girl Power" bandwagon, producing special pink versions of their timeless products, for girls only. Large toy companies have also produced pink versions of games, with Hasbro even going so far as to bizarrely roll out a pink Ouija board!

How toy companies can bring back balance

There is nothing wrong with a child of either sex liking the color pink or preferring pastel colors. While it is understandable to add a pink Lego brick, Nerf dart or Tinker Toy rod to the traditional multi-colored sets to cater to the preferences and tastes of all children, it is a very different move to produce separate versions of classic products in pink and pastel, intended only for girls.

While toy stores have pink aisles dedicated solely to girls, there are no aisles that are specific to or dedicated solely to boys. Boys do not have a socially-designated color all to their own. Girls and boys are both encouraged to play with trading cards, building toys, cars, trucks and action figures, but boys are warned to avoid pink like the plague. Any self-respecting girl can walk down the building toy aisles with her dignity intact.

The products in the pink-aisles of toy stores are marketed to be so polarized that they seem only one step away from containing a sign that reads, "No boys allowed".

Additionally, many gender neutral toys and books now make a point to depict girls in affluent and empowering roles (i.e.: a doctor) while boys are often depicted in less affluent and less empowering roles in comparison (i.e.: a mail carrier).

Rather than polarizing toys and marketing them only to girls, toy companies should evolve the trend of the 1980's and:

1. Stop producing "girls only" pink versions of your regular product unless you are willing to offer a clearly stated "boys only" version as well. Balance product colors so that pink becomes just part of the regular scheme of the product's colors- like a box of crayons!

2. Start to make doll play, dress up and dramatic "house" play more attractive to boys by simply adding a balance colors. In 2012, a 13 year old girl successfully petitioned Hasbro to produce an Easy-Bake Oven in colors that would appeal to her brother. Will a child have to petition your company for you to do the right thing?

3. Keep politics out of marketing and ads and respect that many children love play that appears gender stereotyped and other children love play that moves fluidly across gender lines- Celebrate all types of play!

4. Keep politics out of your depictions of children. Show groups of children enjoying the products in various configurations, empowering both boys and girls and children of various abilities- Do not portray boys in less empowering roles than girls to be politically correct. Show both girls and boys in equally empowering roles (parents, doctors, astronauts, etc).

How politicizing childhood harms both boys and girls

The more gender-obsessed and gender-politicized our society has become, the more gender polarized it has become, with nothing but harm resulting for children of both sexes. Of course, boys have not been referred to as "princes", "rock stars" or "gods" in the media, and non-compliant boy-ness has been increasingly pathologized in boys. The "Girl Power" campaigning of the late 90's and the new Millennium has had the effect of shaming, pathologizing and degrading boys in the media as well as in other institutions of society, including the educational, legal, mental health and human service fields. I have to question whether the rash of pre-pubescent boys in the media whose parents are claiming that they are transgendered girls are actually boys suffering deep unconscious shame about their bodies and their selves as boys. How can boys feel that they are good, beautiful, precious and wanted as boys when they are exposed to media and cultural institutions that pathologize "boy-ness" and champion "girl-ness"?

When toy companies in the 1970's and 80's began to level the playing field and market the idea to boys of nurturing a baby doll or playing with Care Bears, girls were not shunned, put down or disempowered in the process. Boys were not depicted as "better than" or elevated by playing with the dolls. Children of both sexes were simply depicted as having fun with the products. Why have the toy companies of today regressed? Why were they capable of empowering both boys and girls in the 1980's but not now in the 2010's?

What parents can do to protect their children

Why are parents so comfortable with their sons being put down, pathologized, shunned or ignored by marketers, media, schools, institutions and by political and social "justice" campaigns to elevate their daughters? Why are today's parents comfortable at all with one sex being elevated over another? Tragically, there are very real costs to the self esteem, self worth, self respect and social relationships of both boys and girls as a result of a childhood barrage of anti-male shaming and "princess" elevating. As parents, there are many steps we can take.

1. Do not support or buy from companies that directly incite or encourage anti-boy attitudes.

2. Boycott the "pink versions" of classic building toys and games.

3. Write to companies that are "pinkifying" their products and ask that they stop shunning boys, elevating girls and polarizing gender. Suggest that they simply add pink and purple to their existing color schemes.

4. Realize that toy companies that produce toys traditionally loved by boys are now experiencing enormous political and social pressure to disassociate from being seen as a "boy-focused" company. Write to any companies that still demonstrate that they care about boys and praise them. If you don't make it known that some people still care about the needs of boys, these companies may eventually stop marketing quality toys that are loved by boys, pushing boys further away from dramatic play and into media saturation.

5. Challenge the cultural expectation that our children MUST be exposed to media. Consider screening media and boycotting any media with attitudes that are mean-spirited and degrading towards ANY people.

6. Model respect for all humans. Be careful of your own gender-biased attitudes and comments, especially those that portray boys and men in a negative or degrading light and girls and women as victims or more entitled to empowerment and fair treatment than males.

7. Discuss and point out any forms of sexism, including anti-boy attitudes, promotion of mean-spiritedness in girls and "princess" elevation when you see it in society or in the media and dialogue about it with your children.

8. Respect that children have a right to play and live free from you imposing your political and religious beliefs on them. Celebrate your children's interests and choices. Respect it when children love to play in ways that seem gender stereotyped and when they want to play across traditional gender stereotypes. Children have a right to play in any way that contributes to their healthy holistic development. One of my nieces loves to play princess and my son enjoyed Live Action Role Play (LARP) with "boffer" swords in his teens. I can't imagine telling them that they can't play with what they love. Instead, I have always supported the passions of the children in my life.

It is amazing that we live in a time when we have to remind grown adults that two wrongs don't make a right: Committing sexism against boys today to retaliate against sexism done to girls in the past is a form of violence. Violence always leads to harm, not healing. Let's hope that the youngest generation will grow up to improve upon our unhealthy and tragic gender politics and bring us to a time when play isn't political, but is simply... child's play.