A charm bracelet, a boy, and my beliefs questioned

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I have a thing for charm bracelets lately – and by 'thing' I mean I obsess over them. It is impossible to live in our house and not be caught up in a conversation about these charm bracelets.

So when my nine-year-old son asked me for a charm bracelet of his own I wasn't surprised by the question – but I was surprised by my answer of 'no.'

Until that moment when my boys had asked for anything regarded by the consensus as 'for girls' my answer was always 'yes.' They've worn nail polish, I've bought them makeup kits, and bought them dolls, toy change tables and prams to play with. For a little while my youngest son's favourite outfit was his Dora dress.

But this time it didn't feel right. Maybe it was the expense of the charm bracelet? Maybe it was because he wasn't three anymore?

Either way, I was staring at the face of my nine-year-old son, realising that my once steadfast decision to be open minded was quickly unravelling at the seams.

"I think it's a lot easier to blur the lines when you have girls as opposed to boys," says Kylie, a mum of two girls. "Girls can get away with 'traditional boy stuff' with a lot less raised eyebrows than boys can, it seems."

Kylie is open minded when it comes to nurturing the interests of her girls: their toys are selected from all aisles of the toy department, not just the dolls section, and when it comes to clothes she buys whatever she thinks is cute for her girls, regardless of the section they are in. "Jumpers and track pants in particular I tend to look in the boys' department, first because they have a better range and tend to have more options when it comes to jumpers without hoods."

But is it so easy for boys? Is there a line that is crossed, maybe after a certain age, that makes gender-based choices more resolute than it can ever be for girls?

Kylie seems to think so. "I think it's harder for boys to blur the lines of gender specific stuff as they get older as there is a lot more – I don't know if judgement is the right word, but there is a lot more said about a boy who loves pink or wants to wear a dress, whereas a girl just gets the 'tomboy' tag and it isn't cared about as much."

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Blurring the lines between pink and blue is not something new. If anything it is an issue gaining momentum.

Let Toys Be Toys, a parent-led campaign from the UK, petitions the toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children's interests by promoting some toys and books as only suitable for girls, and others only for boys.

The passionate campaigners from Let Toys Be Toys are not only asking retailers and manufacturers to sort and label toys by theme or function, rather than by gender, it seems some of these retailers and manufacturers are listening.

Usborne publishers will no longer be publishing new titles explicitly labelled as 'for girls' or 'for boys., and Toys'R'Us has stopped categorising products as 'boys' or 'girls' toys on their website. And Target is embracing gender neutral toy catalogues as well as breaking down the gender stereotypes in their stores. 

So if toy retail giants can embrace the change and pave the way for children making choices based only on their interests and curiosity, why can't I say 'yes' to the charm bracelet?

In my defence, Eliz, a mother of two, says, "Of course a parent can change their mind! I would have probably considered an inexpensive starter bracelet if I really thought it mattered to my son to have one."

With both a daughter and a son, Eliz says she has never had to make gender specific decisions when it came to toys or clothes, as the lines were always blurred. "My little miss has only ever wanted to wear her older brother's outgrown clothes and play with the same toys that he's enjoying, together they just pursue what is fun and interesting and that has nothing to do with it being 'for girls' or 'for boys.'"

"I'd buy the charm bracelet if it wasn't too expensive," says mum of two Vera. "Kids are just experimenting and trying to develop their identity. Personally I love it when my kids don't follow form and try something new. I don't want them to conform at the risk of losing their identity and possibly leading boring and sad lives when they grow up."

So maybe expense is the only factor influencing my decision about this charm bracelet? I might wait six months and see if my son's interest in this charm bracelet is just as keen as it is now. Then we can go from there.

After all, as Leah, a primary school teacher, suggested, "Get something you like – everyone wins then."

So should I buy my son the charm bracelet? What would you do? Comment below. 

Josefa Pete is a writer and mother to two boys. You can follow her on Facebook or read her blog.

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