On the surface, raising a child with an identified gender of male should be much the same as raising a female identified child We are thankfully moving past strict gender guidelines, and no longer are toys considered “boy toys” or “girl toys” (for the most part). However, there are societal differences and expectations that do differ between genders, and we would be remiss to ignore them.
Biologically, there are gender differences in brains. Boys tend to use more gray-matter in their brains when completing tasks, meaning they are more efficient in highly structured tasks. Interestingly, scientists and researchers are finding that brain use and make up is more consistent with an individual’s identified gender as opposed to their biological gender. This supports the experience of transgender individuals as well.
Social relationships and expectations are different for boys as well. Physical contact and aggression is more expected in boys, leading to concerns about bullying (both as bully and as victim). Boys have just as much need for closeness and intimacy in their friendships and relationships, but may have a harder time expressing that need, given masculine societal expectations that discourage “love” between male friends or emotional expression in general.
For the first time ever, the American Psychological Association has released practice guidelines related to the treatment of men and boys. This need arose from the constraints and limitations that expectations surrounding masculinity have caused. While men are more likely to commit, and to become a victim of, a violent crime, they are less likely to seek and receive psychological treatment. These practice guidelines were seen by many as a response to the #metoo movement, where boys and men can be victims of assault and harassment, yet because of the volume of women within this movement, many men felt silenced and shamed telling their own #metoo stories.
In fact, because of the biological and societal differences for men, boys and men may need even more emotional support than females. From the moment of conception, individuals with XY chromosome are at greater risk for developmental malformations and disability – yet societal expectations present males as “tougher” and “more resilient.” Males are more frequently diagnosed with externalizing behaviors, such as opposition and conduct disorders. Males are at higher risk for accidents and injury, and they are at greater risk for addiction, and lethal suicide attempts.
To mitigate these risks and vulnerabilities, male identified children have a high need for positive parental relationships. Actively teaching boys to express their emotions, to respond to affection and closeness, and to avoid outdated cliches like, “boys don’t cry” and “man up” can help. Navigating our complex societal expectations and the biological differences between genders can be tough, but fear not. We can help!