With all the media coverage of topics such as the #MeToo movement and toxic masculinity, in conjunction with a better understanding of gender fluidity, there appears to be a drive towards creating an androgynous society. While there are great reasons to increase acceptance of differences, as well as decrease the “boys will be boys” mentality, ignoring vital differences that exist between boys and girls has the potential to impact us in problematic ways that we cannot yet understand. For those who are gender conforming, there are biological differences between the genders, which are plainly obvious when raising young children. It is vital that parents and teachers are aware of these differences, rather than playing into stereotypes, so we can be thoughtful about how we socialize behaviors in or out of any child.
One such example is the difference of attention span. When younger, boys actually hear less well than females do. This can have an effect on how they are perceived by others, as they can be seen as disrespectful or lacking in attention. When treated with annoyance or neglect, feelings of dismissal can arise, which can then trigger acting out. Understanding that boys hear less well than girls can help their performance in school or other settings. Boys also feel less pain than girls do, and also have poorer impulse control. In addition, they have a greater need for physical stimulation. This is why boys tend to be perceived as rambunctious or reckless, as they feel the need to release copious amounts of energy and are not very afraid or thoughtful of the potential hazards or consequences.
In social settings, girls have more of an innate desire to interact with others and are more aware of how their words and actions affect others. Boys, on the other hand, are not very aware of how their actions could affect others, and thus tend to be more impulsive with how they act around others. When disciplining, girls respond better to moral explanations while boys are more effected by physical forms of discipline, such as grounding or taking away something of importance (i.e., a cell phone, TV time, etc.).
Socialization of both genders is extremely important; however, the effects are different depending on whether they are male or female. For example, staying in school is very important for preventing teenage pregnancy and drug and alcohol use in both genders. It can also protect against high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and heart attack. However, getting involved in sports can increase boys’ potential for getting involved in drug and alcohol use, as well as early sexual activities, but can decrease the risk in girls. Nevertheless, being involved in physical activities such as sports can keep boys out of trouble if they are performing in a supervised setting.
Trauma is another facet of gender differences. Boys are at a higher risk of being victims of physical abuse, while girls are at a higher risk of suffering from sexual abuse. These can lead to an increased probability of developing depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. In addition, childhood abuse can lead to becoming an abuser in the future. While it should be understood that not everyone who is abused becomes an abuser, boys who are beaten are more likely to abuse others in the future.
Regardless of the gender differences, all children need emotional and physical affection. Growing up without these positive interactions, many additional problems can arise in the future in males and females. While there is no doubt that embracing gender fluidity has many social and psychological benefits, for those who are gender conforming, gender does matter.
Want to read more? Check out Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.