Are boys different from girls and should they be brought up differently? Yes, according to Australian child psychologist, Steve Biddulph author of Raising Boys.
With sometimes three boys in our house at the same time: Ed aged 3 and my stepsons, 12 and 16, I thought I’d have another read of the book and share a summary with you. As always, it would be interesting to know the thoughts of parents or anyone else as we were all ‘brought up.’
Biddulph has researched the ‘three stages of boyhood.’ Interestingly, he says they are ‘timeless and universal’ First: from birth to six – when a boy ‘belongs to his mother.’ The aim is to give love and security. Second: from six to 14 – when a boy, ‘starts wanting to learn to be a man and looks more to his father for interest and activity.’ Biddulph says, ‘This is when a boy becomes happy and secure about being a male.’ ‘This is the time to ‘make-time.’ He stresses even if your son acts ‘cool’ – ‘Enjoy this time when he really is wanting to be with you.’ The third phase: from 14 to adult when the boy needs input from male mentors. ‘The aim is to learn skills, responsibility and self-respect by joining more with the adult community.’
Another interesting few pages cover: ‘Five fathering essentials’ Biddulph advises to – Start early – be involved in the pregnancy, birth and early stages of the child’s life. Make time – fathers need to get home in time to play, laugh, teach and tickle their children. Be Demonstrative – ‘hugging, holding and playing wrestling games can take place right through to adulthood!’ But also do gentler things too – kids respond to quiet storytelling – tell your kids how great and beautiful they are and don’t be afraid to be affectionate. Lighten up – enjoy your kids and experiment to find those activities that you both enjoy. Heavy down – get involved in the decision making – supervise homework and housework. Develop ways of discipline which are calm but definite.
Continuing with the fathering theme which takes up quite a lot of the book, Biddulph believes that there is a direct connection with bad behaviour at school and a lack of fathering. ‘An under-fathered boy equals a discipline problem in school. Under-fathered boys unconsciously want men to be involved and address the problems of their lives, but don’t know how to ask. Girls ask for help, but boys often just act for help.’
So, what is the solution if a father isn’t around: Biddulph recognises that ‘There’s no doubt that women can raise men, but the ones I have spoken to who succeeded always stress that they found good male role-models. They emphasise too that they needed lots of extra support in order to cope.’
Other issues he deals with are, teaching boys to respect women, ‘Fathers need to be role models and insist mothers are respected.’ Sex – ‘a boy needs to learn empathy and feeling and be shown tenderness if he is to be a sexually caring being.’
Biddulph outlines the physical and mental differences between boys and girls. Testosterone has its own chapter! Apparently, at the age of four, boys receive a sudden surge of testosterone but by five the levels drop by a half and then between the ages of 11 and 13 the levels rise sharply again. It affects mood and energy and, to sum up: boys need to know who’s boss but also be treated fairly in order to ‘channel his energies in good ways.’
Biddulph says the key word is structure: ‘Boys feel insecure and in danger if there isn’t enough structure in a situation. If no-one is in charge, they begin jostling with each other to establish the pecking order. Their testosterone-driven make-up leads them to want to set up hierarchies. If we can provide structure, then they can relax.’
Included in ‘Raising Boys’ which was published in 1997, is ‘An Important Note’ that, ‘in writing a book about boys and their special needs, I wish in no way to take away from the efforts being made everywhere to advance women and girls.’ He believes that a ‘better world depends on making all groups happier and healthier. If we want more good men in the world, we must start treating boys with less blame and more understanding.’
Of course, this is a summary but I’ve gained a few insights into raising boys and hope you have too. Is all this obvious though? I’m just myself with my son and stepsons and I imagine most parents are just true to themselves too. I would be interested to know your thoughts on gender/raising children. What about same sex couples who raise children? Do we really need both male and female role models? Do we need to bring up boys and girls differently? Let me know your thoughts/reactions.