The differences between boys and girls extend far beyond their anatomy. Understanding those differences will help us be better parents to all of our kids.
Child Trends, the youth research institute, recently summarized the research on those key differences. Gender disparities begin before birth, with males more likely to be born prematurely. Boys have significantly more developmental problems during childhood. They are more than two times as likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and have a rate of autism four times that of girls.
Boys experience more failure in school than girls. They are 50 percent more likely to be held back in at least one grade and more than two-thirds more likely to have the need for an individualized education plan.
In general, their academic achievement is behind that of girls. In the fourth, eighth and 12th grades, girls score higher in standardized tests in reading and writing. Boys perform better by a small margin in math in the fourth and 12th grades.
Our sons are less likely to graduate from high school, and only 30 percent of young men obtain a college degree (compared with 37 percent of young women).
These differences are due to a complex interaction of biological, genetic and environmental factors. If you have a son, pay particular attention to the following.
▪ Diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Be cautious about this diagnosis, with 13.5 percent of our sons being labeled as having this disorder (compared with 5.4 percent of our daughters). I understand that physical and mental problems may indeed have a higher prevalence rate due to biological factors. However, I wonder whether normal boyhood activity is being misdiagnosed as a mental problem.
Don’t drug your son into submission. Provide the opportunity for lots of physical activities. Recognize that kids (both boys and girls) generally perform better when they get adequate sleep and are given time for brain rest.
▪ School performance. Many schools have decreased or eliminated recess so as to focus on academic performance. Our boys need lots of short recess breaks of unstructured activities, not a few minutes of adult controlled games. Boys generally learn better when instruction is given in shorter periods of time, not long lectures.
▪ Parenting style. We treat our children differently due to their gender. At a young age (birth to 5), parents are much more likely to read or sing to their daughters. This early language stimulation may be one factor responsible for our girls’ generally more sophisticated language skills.
We want all of our kids to succeed. Each gender has its own plusses and pitfalls. The goal isn’t to treat each gender equally, but rather raise each child according to their specific needs.
Dr. Gregory Ramey is the executive director of Dayton Children Hospital’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources. Email: Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.