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How The Way We Talk to Boys May Be Stunting Them

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Over the last several decades researchers have examined the differences in how boys and girls are treated by parents, teachers, employers and society extensively. They've looked at stereotype threat that can keep women out of fields requiring high levels of science and math; they've dissected when and how gendered messages begin; and have examined the toys that may contribute to the problem. But far less has been researched about how those same issues affect boys.

That's beginning to change and the initial indications are that gender stereotypes show up in how parents speak to their male children, the expectations set for their behavior, and even the physical support they offer boys. This masculinity research runs in parallel to another set of research showing that the ability to access and talk about emotions makes people more resilient. So why would we deprive our boys of that advantage? In his New York Times article Andrew Reiner explains:

We tell ourselves we are preparing our sons to fight (literally and figuratively), to compete in a world and economy that’s brutish and callous. The sooner we can groom them for this dystopian future, the better off they’ll be. But the Harvard psychologist Susan David insists the opposite is true: “Research shows that people who suppress emotions have lower-level resilience and emotional health."

How can we change this? We can start, says Dr. David, by letting boys experience their emotions, all of them, without judgment — or by offering them solutions. This means helping them learn the crucial lessons that “Emotions aren’t good or bad” and that “their emotions aren’t bigger than they are. They aren’t something to fear."


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