Understanding Boys: Especially for Moms
Despite prevailing pop culture paradigms and all things "politically correct," just about any Mom could tell you that boys and girls are positively, definitely… different.
But what about boys is indeed so different? How much of it is "nature" and how much "nurture"? And how can parents, and in particular moms, raise boys in today's culture so that they'll grow up to become God-honoring leaders for the next generation?
TRUST YOUR OWN EYES AND EARS
Boys are different from girls. That fact was never in question for previous generations. They knew intuitively that each sex was a breed apart and that boys were typically the more unpredictable of the two. Haven't you heard your parents and grandparents say with a smile, "Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but boys are made of snakes and snails and puppy-dog tails." It was said tongue-in-cheek, but people of all ages thought it was based on fact. "Boys will be boys," they said knowingly. They were right. In an article entitled, "What Are Boys Made Of?" reporter Paula Gray Hunker quoted a mother named
Meg MacKenzie who said raising her two sons is like living with a tornado. "From the moment that they come home from school, they'll be running around the house, climbing trees outside and making a commotion inside that sounds as if a herd of elephants has moved in upstairs. I'll try to calm them down, but my husband will say, 'This is what boys do. Get used to it.'"
CLICK TO WATCH: Encouragement for Raising Sons
Hunker continued, "Mrs. MacKenzie, the lone female in a household of males, says this
tendency [of boys] to leap—and then listen—drives her crazy. 'I can't just tell my boys,
"Clean up." If I do, they'll put one or two toys away and assume that the task is done.
I've learned that I have to be very, very specific.' She has found that boys do not respond to subtle hints but need requests clearly outlined. 'I'll put a basket of clean laundry on the stairs, and the boys will pass it by twenty times and not once will it occur to them to stop and carry it upstairs,' she says."
Does that sound familiar? If you host a birthday party for five-year-olds, the boys will probably behave very differently from the girls. One or more of them is likely to throw cake, put his hands in the punch bowl or mess up the games for the girls. Why are they like this? Some would say their mischievous nature has been learned from the culture. Really? Then why are boys more aggressive in every society around the globe? And why did the Greek philosopher Plato write more than 2,300 years ago, "Of all the animals, the boy is the most unmanageable"?
CLICK TO LISTEN: From Dr. Meg Meeker's Book: Strong Mothers, Strong Sons
WHY BOYS ARE DIFFERENT
"What makes young males act as they do?" "What inner force compels them to teeter on
the edge of disaster?" and "What is it about the masculine temperament that drives boys to
tempt the laws of gravity and ignore the gentle voice of common sense—the one that says,
'Don't do it, Son'?"
The first factor is the hormone testosterone, which is largely responsible for maleness (even though smaller amounts of it occur in the bodies of girls and women). It shows up at six or seven weeks after conception, when all embryos are technically "female." That is when a dramatic spiking of testosterone occurs for those who have inherited a "Y" (or male) chromosome. It begins masculinizing their tiny bodies and transforming them into boys.
In a real sense, this "hormonal bath," as it is sometimes called, actually damages the walnut-shaped brain and alters its structure in many ways. The corpus callosum, which is the rope of nerve fibers that connects the two hemispheres, is made less efficient. That limits the number of electrical transmissions that can flow from one side of the brain to the other, which will have lifelong implications. Later, a man will have to think longer about what he believes—especially about something with an emotional component. A woman, on the
other hand, will typically be able to access her prior experience from both hemispheres and discern almost instantly how she feels about it.
The impact of testosterone will have many other profound influences on a boy's developing mind and body. In fact, it will affect his every thought and deed for the rest of his life.
Another hormone that affects human behavior… is called serotonin, and it carries information from one nerve cell to another. Thus, it is called a "neurotransmitter." Serotonin's purpose is to pacify or soothe the emotions and to help an individual control his or her impulsive behavior. It also facilitates good judgment. Studies of monkeys in the wild revealed that those with low serotonin levels were more likely to take dangerous leaps from branch to branch.
If testosterone is the gasoline that powers the brain, serotonin slows the speed and helps one steer. And… you guessed it. Females typically have more of it than males.
The third aspect of neurobiology that helps us understand the differences between males and females concerns a portion of the brain known as the amygdala. When a physical or emotional threat is perceived by the senses, the amygdala instantly orders the adrenal glands and other defensive organs to swing into action. It fires electrical impulses by way of neural connections into the hypothalamus that put it in a nasty mood. Add testosterone to that situation and you have the potential for a fiery response.
CLICK TO READ: A Mom's Touch on a Boy's Heart
To recap, we have considered three critical components of male neurophysiology: testosterone, serotonin and the amygdala. Together, they determine what it means to be masculine. Having considered what might be viewed as the downside of these features, I must hasten to say that boys and men have their share of neurological advantages, too. Because of the specialization of their brains, males are typically better than females at math, science, spatial relations, logic and reasoning. This is why most architects, mathematicians and physical scientists are men. It is also interesting that males are more responsive to
stories than women. When they get together, they share experiences that convey emotional meaning for them, whereas women almost never do this. Women talk more openly about their feelings rather than playing the game called "Can you top this?" In short, the sexes are very, very different in ways that may never be fully understood.
Is masculinity good or bad? Right or wrong? At first blush, it would appear that girls have all the right stuff. On average, they make fewer mistakes, take fewer risks, are better students, are more thoughtful of others and are less impulsive than boys. Was testosterone one of God's great mistakes?
Would it be better if boys were more like girls and if men were more like women? Should men be feminized, emasculated and "wimpified"? That is precisely what some feminists and other social liberals seem to think and want us to believe. As we have seen, some of them are trying to reprogram boys to make them less competitive, less aggressive and more sensitive. Is that a good idea? Most certainly not. First, because it contradicts masculine nature and will never succeed, and second, because the sexes were carefully designed by the Creator to balance one another's weaknesses and meet one another's needs. Their differences didn't result from an evolutionary error, as it is commonly assumed today. Each sex has a unique purpose in the great scheme of things.
How incredibly creative it is of God to put a different form of dominance in each sex so that there is a balance between the two. When they come together in marriage to form what Scripture calls "one flesh," they complement and supplement one another. Wouldn't it be boring if men and women were identical, as the feminists have claimed? It just ain't so, and thank goodness it isn't.
WHY BOYS ARE DIFFERENT
Let me urge you mothers to talk regularly to your sons (and, of course, to every other member of the family). It is a skill that can be taught. Work hard at keeping the lines of communication open and clear. Explore what your children and your spouse are thinking and feeling. Target your boys, especially, because they may be concealing a cauldron of emotion. When you sense a closed spirit developing, don't let another day go by without bringing hidden feelings out in the open. It's the first principle of healthy family life.
My prayers will be with you as you discharge your God-given responsibility. Cherish every moment of it. And, hug your kids while you can. I hope something I have written on these pages has been helpful to you and yours. Thanks for reading along with me.
IT'S TOUGH ON A DOG By Jean W. Sawtel
It's tough on a dog when his boy grows up,
When he no longer romps and frolics like a pup.
It's tough on a dog when his boy gets old
When they no longer cuddle on his bed when it's cold.
It's tough on a dog when his boy gets tall,
When he's off with the boys playing soccer and baseball.
They no longer paddle through the mud in the bog,
Hoping to find a stray turtle or frog.
They no longer run through the grass up to their knees,
Or roll in the piles of fresh fallen leaves.
It's tough on a dog when his boy gets tall,
When's he's off to school, looking at girls in the hall.
It's tough on a dog when he has work to do,
When he forgets to play as he used to.
It's tough on a dog when instead of the woods or field or pond,
His boy becomes a man—and the man is gone.
For over three decades Dr. James Dobson has been America's leading authority and advocate for the family. This material is excerpted from Dr. Dobson's book The New Dare to Bringing Up Boys (Copyright 2001, Published by Tyndale Publishers) and is used with permission.