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Toys for boys, toys for girls - should there be a difference? Kirsty McCabe investigates

Our weekly columnist examines the gender divide still found in many children's toy shops and asks, "Can't we let our kids decide?"

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Pink or blue? Does it matter?

I recently spent some time with friends who have two daughters and was pleasantly surprised at the lack of “girly” toys. There was very little pink plastic in evidence and no sign of princess garb, they are quite possibly the only two girls left in the UK that haven't seen Frozen a million times.

They have a playroom full of toys but most of them were wooden rather than plastic, a whole host of colours rather than pink and while there were some typical 'home corner' type toys there were plenty of construction type games and other things that might traditionally be considered more boy-friendly.

My sons were delighted and all four kids played together quite happily. I was really impressed, as I think it's pretty hard these days not to give in to the power of pink plastic. Yes, boys and girls are different, and yes, girls do tend to prefer dolls while boys get stuck into cars and trains, but let's not force the gender stereotypes on them too young.

My heart sinks when I see the high quota of pink on display and the heavy focus on things like 'beauty salon' toys and those darn princesses. Do we need to market toys specifically for girls or boys - can't we let our kids decide?

What do you think? Would you buy gender specific toys for your children? Would you buy a pink toy for your son, or a tool kit for your daughter? Let us know by commenting below...

Wander round a toy shop these days and you'll soon notice this segregation between the 'boy' and the 'girl' toys. Sometimes it's obvious with gigantic signs or appropriately coloured floor tiles to make sure you stick to your gender-assigned area, and other times it's just annoying. Apparently, in some stores, girls can only play with pink toys or those with a homemaker flavour, whereas boys get the fun stuff that actually do things and challenge their minds, like science kits.

Maybe girls just aren't into blowing up or discovering things, but I doubt that. All kids enjoy science if it's presented in the right way to them. Recent studies have shown that there are very few differences between the brains of men and women, and that it's social and cultural context that widens the gender gap.

When it comes to clothes, I thought having boys would mean limited wardrobe choices. In actual fact, life is pretty easy. They mostly wear what I tell them and we have suitable clothes for summer (shorts and a T-shirt) and winter (jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt/jumper) and various combinations for in-between. There are lots of colours to choose from and smarter options out there like a shirt or even a suit. When it comes to girls it can be a challenge to find something that doesn't contain pink, glitter, kittens or butterflies.

[READ: Junior's children's fashion hub - for the latest exciting news, reviews, reports and galleries]

I can only presume these items, whether it's a pink tea set or a pink sparkly T-shirt, sell better and all the manufacturers have jumped on the wagon and swamped the market. I recently heard of the Pinkstinks campaign which aims to challenge the trend of heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls. It is time we promoted better self-esteem, positive body image and female role models.

[READ: Junior's guide to the world of child modelling, including tips for how to encourage a positive body image and boosting confidence]

And it's not just the worrying message we're sending to the girls, but the hidden message to boys. Already we are telling them that they are very different to girls. Girls can't do this or that, that toy kitchen is for girls, boys can't wear pink and so on. I want my boys to treat women as equals, to respect them and support them. And if that means they want to wear pink, they can.

Read more… 

Gender-bender toddlers: Beads, boas and boys What’s all the fuss about a boy who wants to wear a dress?

Read Kirsty's columns: 

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