Many years ago, I was one of those who think that boys are born to give parents a perpetual headache. Why not? My sons fought in the car, didn’t do their homework until the last minute, never noticed the glasses and dirty dishes in the sink and messed up their wardrobe the very next day after I tidied it up. I was running a SOHO (small office home office), didn’t have a maid and was exhausted by the end of each day, trying to manage a household with boys who never seemed to listen to my instructions.
One day, however, I noticed that my eldest son, then ten, had washed his plate after lunch without prompting. I summoned him downstairs and down he came.
“Thank you for washing your plate,” I smiled and gave him a pat on his back.
“That’s it?” he asked, perplexed.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Why did you ask?”
“Well, I thought you are upset with me about something,” he said and gave one of his rare spontaneous smiles.
My conscience crept in. Have I done all I could to understand him better? What could I do to see that smile more often? I thought long and hard. Suppose it’s the way I have been treating my children that makes them the way they are? What if I change the way I say and do things? Would that make a difference?
I decided to give it a try.
Come Saturday, it was time to check their rooms. “How about I make a detailed list of the things you boys need to do to tidy up your room?” I asked. They agreed, albeit with a little look of surprise. Normally I would have given a one-liner: “Tidy up your room.”
An hour later, I went in to collect the list. Clothes folded. Check. Toys collected and put into toy box. Check. Beds made. Check. Dirty clothes put into laundry basket. Check.
Wonderful, I thought.
That evening, it was time to check their school work. It was at the tip of my tongue to tell my eight-year-old boy: “Your work is untidy.” Instead, I turned to a particular page that was neater than the rest which I had seen earlier. “I like this,” I said. “Do you think you could do it again?” How he beamed! I shall never forget the look on his face that night.
I began to dig deeper. Boys’ brains, I learnt, develop differently from girls. Another difference is that the left and right sides of the brain tend to form fewer connections in a boy. As a result, the right side of a boy’s brain is richer in internal connections (a plus point for boys) but is not as well-connected to the left side.
This means that it could be a challenge for boys to do things well which need both sides of the brain, like talking about feelings and solving problems through quiet introspection and not via the physical way. It explains why boys have a tendency to get physical when they get involved in an argument while girls tend to argue in a verbal style. When this happens, he needs to be shown how to resolve the issue at hand in a verbal, courteous manner.
You might also notice that girls, on the other hand, tend to be more explicit in portraying their emotions; for example, girls would cry when they have to part ways and say goodbye to beloved teachers and friends while boys might hold back.
Does this mean that boys are inferior? Definitely not. It just helps to explain some practical but temporary difficulties that boys have in different stages of growth and what to do about them. For instance, boys don’t work as neatly as girls in school but they are usually more task oriented. Some boys have difficulty getting organised and will invariably have messy bedrooms, desks and leave clothes lying around but they need step-by-step advice.
Studies have shown there are some areas where girls develop sooner and other areas where boys develop sooner; for example, girls have a more acute sense of hearing while boys show more advanced spatial intelligence at an earlier age. But these are tendencies and are not true of every boy and girl. Some of these differences are attributed to the way boys’ and girls’ brains develop as discussed above.
The average boy also goes through a testosterone cycle that triggers significant changes. At four, he’s active and boyish. Around thirteen, he undergoes rapid growth and disorientation. By fourteen, he’s into testing limits and breaking through to early manhood. Each boy is different, but it is the testosterone that gives him growth spurts and drives him to be active.
A girl and a boy may be of the same age but may not be of the same developmental stage
In general, experts do agree that there are differences between boys and girls, one obvious aspect being the way they physically develop. While both boys and girls experience growth spurts, boys may experience this at a different time from girls and not necessarily at the same age. It’s crucial to remember, however, that every child develops at his own pace and as such, a blue print for the developmental stages of a boy or a girl does not exist. Parents need to be sensitive to their child’s pace of development. Do not rush your child.
Girls differ from boys but every child develops at his or her own pace
In Malaysia, there’s a tendency among parents and educators today to label boys as slower than girls, mainly based on their academic achievement. The general feeling is that boys are likely to underperform compared to girls, who are seen as smarter and achieving better grades. It has to be said that, in general, boys and girls learn differently. In the classroom, teaching styles greatly influence how much boys and girls will learn. A boy who needs an interactive atmosphere gets restless and won’t learn much if he’s required to sit down and listen. He won’t study unless the delivery excites him.
It’s extremely difficult for boys to stay tuned if they know the teacher is going to deliver a monologue during the entire session. Studies have shown that there’s no difference in what boys and girls can learn. Both boys and girls are equally capable of achieving anything they want in their lives as long as they stay motivated.
Pay as much attention to a boy as you would a girl. Not all boys get embarrassed when hugged by his parents in front of his friends. Talk to your son as much as you would your daughter. Encourage him to talk about himself, his friends, and his best moments for the day. Find out what activities thrill him. If he loves to do scientific experiments, for instance, get all the things that he needs from the hardware shop or the bookstore. In general, boys love hands-on things. They love to build and to cut and see things taking shape in front of their eyes. Do these together. In other words, spend as much time with your son as you would with your daughter. And start early. If you have been a big part in their lives from the early years, you’ll find that your presence and views matter a lot to them, even when they are teenagers and forming close friendships with their peers.
Featured Image by Victoria Borodinova