Nature or Mature? A closer look at children and gender differences!

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Gender DifferenceDo you automatically buy your son a car or truck for his birthday or head straight to the Barbie section of your local toy store when you need to buy a gift for your niece? All of us participate in gender role stereotyping to some degree. HEALTH learns how to celebrate these differences and channel them positively.

Development Process


There is much evidence to suggest that gender is part of the developmental process in boys and girls; similar to conceptualizations of emotion, gender is considered to be both biologically and culturally constructed. Steve Biddulph, in his best-selling book, ‘Raising Boys,’ explains the aim was to break out of old stereotypes that girls can be only nurses and secretaries and boys can be engineers and doctors.

Conditioning Theory

For the past thirty years, the conditioning theory pasteurized any differences between boys and girls and enforced boys and girls become who they become through nurturing; the clothes they wear, and the toys they played with. Now ideas are beginning to appreciate the fact that there may be differences between boys and girls that are not socially created and these differences are okay-it doesn’t mean boys are better than girls or vice versa. These differences can be used to plan curriculum and work with, not against the balance of gender. If girls prefer to work cooperatively on a team and boys prefer to work alone alone, this can be used constructively to help them to understand each other and speak the same language.

Testosterone

Testosterone affects mood and energy and also causes energetic and boisterous behavior. Testosterone, Steve Biddulph explains makes certain parts of the brain grow and others slowdown in growth. Illustrated in a famous study, a tribe of male monkeys in a laboratory setting were closely observed to learn about male social structure. Researchers found there was a definite hierarchy in the males; each monkey was fully aware who the boss was. The researchers captured the lowest ranking monkey and gave him an injection of testosterone. After placing him back with his tribe they noticed with amazement he began a boxing match with his ‘boss!’ After winning, he challenged each ‘boss’ in succession, one by one, until he worked his way up the rank. Unfortunately after the injection wore off, he was knocked all the way back to the bottom of his heap.

The Solution

The answer to help boys with jumpiness, according to Steve Biddulph, is structure. Boys feel insecure if there is not enough structure in a situation and if there is no one in charge, they begin to jostle one another to set a hierarchy. Boys tend to be easier to handle if structure can be provided through the use of a clear cut boss or supervisor figure-head.

The Brain

Gender differences are also evident in the brains of babies. A boy’s brain develops more slowly than a girl’s and the left and right sides of the brain form fewer connections than a girls. One half handles language and reasoning and the other movement, emotion, and sense of space and position. Both halves talk to each other through a big central bundle of fibers called the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum in boys is proportionately smaller in size and there are few connections running from one side to the other. It has been shown that boys tend to attack quizzes and puzzles using only one side of the brain while girls use both sides.

Hormonal or environmental, these differences definitely do exist. Because women have more connected brain halves, they tend to recover from a stroke more speedily and completely than men. Girls who have learning difficulties tend to improve faster than boys and this may explain why boys are more prone to learning difficulties.

Physiological differences between girls & boys

  1. Adults tend to treat boys more harshly than girls; often parents will hug and cuddle a girl more than boys, even as new-born babies.
  2. After learning to stand, boys show more interest in roaming and girls are less likely to roam than boys.
  3. By age 3, boys have greater muscle mass and girls have more evident fatty tissue.
  4. By Preschool and Kindergarten, boys tend to build higher structures that topple and girls tend to build long and low stable structures of blocks.
  5. Boy babies are less sensitive to faces.
  6. Girl babies have a much better sense of touch.
  7. Boys grow faster and stronger, yet are more troubled by separations from their mother.
  8. By toddler-hood, boys move around a lot and tend to occupy more space than girls.
  9. Boys also are less friendly to strangers whereas girls tend to congregate with other girls and are more apt to be friendly to a newcomer.
  10. Boys comprise 95 percent of all hyperactive children.
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