A revolution may be underway on behalf of boys, not just in the U.S. but also abroad. Our own Katey McPherson just returned from Singapore, where she presented and taught at the Maris Stella K-12 school for boys. Not just in the U.S., but throughout the world, issues facing our sons are beginning to be recognized.
An example: the latest educational research known as the PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment) from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows boys behind girls in most developmental, behavioral, academic, and social markers in all industrialized countries. Another example: weekly and sometimes daily, I receive an email from a parent or professional in China, Japan, Qatar, Kenya, Brazil, Vietnam, Australia, and many other countries asking, “What can we do to help our failing boys?”
In 2015, the World Health Organization published a major study of men’s and boys’ health worldwide. This study makes statistical what we have all sensed anecdotally, and takes the boy crisis even beyond the school room. The study’s authors—from Europe, the U.S. and Asia—provided statistics and analysis from all continents, including the most comprehensive health study worldwide to date, the Global Burden of Disease Study led by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
The study concludes that in most of the world, girls and women are doing better than boys and men in both physical and mental health indicators. Even when statistics regarding female depression, eating disorders, and violence-against-females such as rape and genital mutilation are included, males are doing statistically worse. Saying this does not diminish female suffering, but it does help us see boys’ needs. Perhaps most surprising is the study’s wide reach: the health and wellness gender gap favoring females exists in some manner in all 72 industrialized countries, including countries like China or Oman, countries we have tended to believe privilege males and denigrate females.
The WHO study asks us to see the world’s invisible boys with a new lens. The authors write, “In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men continue to be substantially worse than among girls and women, yet this gender-based disparity in health has received little national, regional or global acknowledgement or attention from health policy-makers or health-care providers.” The study concludes: “Including both women and men in efforts to reduce gender inequalities in health as part of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda would improve everyone’s health and well-being.”
Katey, I, and all of us at GI are proud to be receiving inquiries for services around the world. Recently, we have had some of those educators travel to the U.S. to attend our Training Institutes here. Participants have come from Russia, Australia, Jamaica, Amsterdam, Guam, and South Africa. The same questions are getting asked all over the world:
“Why are boys so much less motivated in school than girls?”
“Why are boys so restless and, in many cases, seem so aimless?”
“Why is the quality of their work declining?’
The Gurian Institute is proud to be a part of the new revolution on behalf of boys. We hope you will spread the word about how impactful it is to train parents, teachers, and mentors in the minds of boys and girls. So much happens when we fully understand both what our children need and how to help them thrive in whatever place, country, or community they are born.
Gurian Institute Executive Director Katey McPherson talks with Heather Chauvin about screen time in the summer.
As we move through summer, technology and healthy boundaries are on every parent's mind as we try to balance free play and tech use.
Listen in on some tips and strategies to save your sanity and connection with your children.
Listen to the whole podcast here.
By Blog by Michael Gurian
My daughter, Davita, 24, is an avid and accomplished rock climber. She and her boyfriend, Ben, go on two to three month climbing trips around the country every year. They “send” their routes and “redpoint” their projects and otherwise master boulders and cliff-faces as much as a human being can. Davita’s calling—and her older sister, Gabrielle’s interest in climbing a few years earlier in the family chronology--has recently spilled over to my wife, Gail, who now boulders and rope climbs two to three times a week at our local climbing facility.
The love these women have for climbing intersected recently with my own studies of gender in three specific ways. In the first, Davita sent me a blog about “mansplaining in climbing” on the same day the wonderful new action movie, “Wonder Woman,” came out (more on the movie in a moment). You can read the blog Davita sent here:
“Mansplaining” represents a feeling women have of being talked to by men in a patronizing way. The blogger gives examples of what she considers significant sexism in the climbing world via men condescendingly criticizing women’s technique.
Davita has written on gender-in-climbing for professional websites and we enjoy discussing how gender politics and gender differences intersect with all worlds, including her climbing world. After I read the blog post, she said, “I respect this writer’s perspective, but Dad, this is not how I see climbing.” She continued, “Even the examples she gives don’t seem dangerous to me. I think she’s taking everything way too personally but blaming men.” I heard Davita talking about the same “gender micro-aggressions” movement we see throughout our universities, schools, corporations and public culture today: portrayals of ostensible evil motives (mainly by males) without actual crimes by these males.
When I asked Davita if she thought there was rampant sexism in climbing, she frowned and shook her head. “No. Some guys are mean or immature and some women are nasty or immature but climbing as a sport is pretty gender equal. It is also very difficult sport and difficult as a way of life—being criticized comes with the territory because the goal is to keep getting better at your craft.”
If you haven’t read the blog post yet, I hope you’ll take a moment to do so. While making some important points, it seems, to me, to depict a villain-victim relationship that systematically disempowers women yet I agree with Davita: the author seems to both depict women as too fragile to handle men’s criticism and also as people who are entitled to special treatment.
I thought about all this as I left a preview of the movie “Wonder Woman,” a female-directed and female-empowering movie I highly recommend for anyone who likes a good action movie, and especially to anyone raising daughters. In it, Diana, an Amazon, is raised by all women warriors. She yearns not for less critique but more because she knows: to criticize is to respect rather than to harm--if a person is not being criticized and led, through that critique, to greatness, she has little worth.
Diana’s warrior aunt, Antiope says as much: early in the film, she tells Diana’s mother that the only way to protect her niece is to train her through rigor and danger that makes Diana constantly uncomfortable. Her mother, as Diana gets closer to adulthood, finally agrees, and Diana goes into this difficult training wherein, as a young woman, she develops resilience and confidence and, later, outperforms everyone AND saves the world!
You can imagine my thoughts as I juxtaposed the blog on mansplaining with this movie. To me a father of well-empowered daughters, the Wonder Woman vision of expanded and resilient womanhood, rife with love, truth, critique, rigor, mission, purpose, and personal growth, was preferable to complaints of interpersonal discomforts in which malice does not exist. As I left the theater I went home to begin this blog then Gail came home for dinner. We ate together and I listened to her talk about her climbing lesson earlier that morning. As she reported routes and projects, I mentioned the movie and the blog. She had not yet read the blog but had knew what “mansplaining” was.
As we talked, she discussed her climbing coach, a young man in his late 20s, Nick. “I think some people might interpret Nick’s coaching as mansplaining,” she reflected, “especially when he critiques my technique or focus; let’s face it, he is direct, harsh and sometimes stern. There’s no pleasantry about it. But his approach motivates and challenges me, he inspires me to try harder and reach further than I believe I can.”
We talked a bit more about this and then she wanted to read the whole blog post so I cleaned up from dinner as she read, thinking about her talk of harshness. All through my marriage to Gail—31 years—and my daughters’ upbringings, I’ve heard: “Dad, your tone is so harsh!” “Dad, you don’t have to be so loud. I get it.” “Mike, I get it! You don’t have to be harsh about it.” My family has been right on all counts: my comments can often be too critical and I am tone-deaf to the harshness of my loud tone, especially to women’s ears.
Is that sexist? I don’t think so. It fits the brain research. The female brain does pick up more subtle criticism in voices than the male brain tends to do. Male biochemistry is already linked with harsher, more competitive, and more physically painful self-expressions via our testosterone dominance, and male auditory cortices don’t, on average, hear as much or as well as female, so males do often tend to sound louder and harsher than females. Add to that how a child is nurtured early on—some kids raised with more and louder criticism by parents and caregivers, you can end up with more males like me and Nick than females.
Gail finished reading the blog post and I came back to the table. She said, “I guess everyone would rather hear nice words spoken in nice ways, but I’m glad Nick is the way he is. It makes me a better student and climber.”
“Do you think he’s being sexist?” I asked.
“Not at all.” She pointed to the blog post. “This seems pretty off base to me. I don’t see Nick as mansplaining or talking down to me in a sexist way. He’s just talking in a guy way. It’s not condescending to my gender. In fact, he’s respectful in his male way of my efforts.” Pointing again to the blog post, she said, “I think this writer is sensitive, fragile.” That had been Davita’s comment as well.
I don’t know the writer—she might not be very fragile at all—but the takeaway of all this might be that there is some significant disagreement among empowered women on what “strength” means. In our family of very strong women, a man’s tone doesn’t figure much into a woman’s character or being. For us (as, I believe, for Wonder Woman), “mansplaining” accusations seem yet another way to disempower girls from developing their own resilience by attacking males for trying to help them build that resilience.
In the ten years in which I provided gender training to Fortune 500 corporations (which I’ve reported in Leadership and the Sexes, 2007), one of the major complaints of both women and men was the fact that there are a lot of women in those workplaces who “take things too personally.” This created many dramas that hindered morale and workplace productivity. Tones of voice—often by males but not always—were considered “attacking” or “devaluing.” Sometimes they were so, but much of the time they were simply critical, even harshly so, but not systemically sexist.
I will keep working on quieting down my tone, especially with the women in my life. Meanwhile, I hope our community conversations will look carefully at the possibility that feeling entitled to complain about the other gender’s approaches to resilience-building is not necessarily strong or resilient. A lot of “gender micro aggressions” like “mansplaining” may actually be gifts not oppression: gifts that instill “discomfort” of the kind Diana, in Wonder Woman, welcomed in her journey to and through resilience.
When someone is sexist, let’s take the sexist person to task. But while making our judgments about sexism, let’s teach everyone around us—children and adults—what real malice is. Protection against malice is crucial to survival and thriving. Accusations of malice when only motivational critique are intended is a step backward in human development—not a gift to our daughters.
Ask Dr. Gurian: Are videogames just games, or can they be tools for teaching character and maturity?
Answer: They are both games and potential maturation tools because they already deal with themes of character development and manhood.
Every video game--even ones that we might find despicable, like Grand Theft Auto--can become assets in a boy’s moral development, especially if we discuss the games with the boys.
Here’s a quote from General George Patton that dads who play war games with sons can use to mentor their sons.
“Despite the impossibility of detecting the soul physically, its existence is proven by its tangible reflection in acts and thoughts. So, with war: beyond its physical aspect of armed hosts there hovers an impalpable something which dominates the material. To understand this ‘something’ we should seek it in a manner analogous to our search for the soul.”
Our sons, in this vein, are not just playing a game—they’re entering a world of soldiery in which, Patton says, they are searching for their souls. This fits the neuroscience. During adolescence, as males develop neural pathways between the limbic area and the temporal lobe (which is known as the spiritual part of the brain), the ineffable becomes meaningful to boys—it is a source of power, purpose, and independence.
Boys can’t generally talk about all this indescribable, transcendent feelings in depth yet, but it constitutes the manhood they search for in video games as these electronic images are flung at the boy--images of soul, shadows of honor, ideas of good and evil cast in light and darkness that can, potentially, motivate and grow a boy’s soul.
If played too much or never contextualized, the games can create more neural distress, less light and more darkness in the male brain. Too much screen time in general is dangerous to the brain and too much video game play in a day is potentially dangerous. We must practice moderation, of course. Meanwhile, as with everything our son sees and feels, parents and the adult community have the power to direct a boy’s maturation through what he loves.
Here are some strategic ways you can do this with gaming.
*Ask your son to teach you the game he is playing;
*Ask him to interpret the game for you, not just for a minute or two, but in great depth; and
*Ask him, specifically, to interpret and integrate the games into the value systems and moral codes you are teaching him in your family.
Video games are rife with doorways to these strategies because in many videogames your son is already becoming a warrior who battles for good against evil.
Here’s an example from Halo.
“We soldiers are simple things,” the Colonel tells his troops. “We’re taught honor: honor means sacrifice and sacrifice means death, our own or our enemy’s. In some ways, beneath it all, that’s what a soldier is really trained to do—to end God’s work.”
In these words, the videogame aids temporal lobe connections by focus on God, the soul, manhood, and soldiering linked together in male maturation. Using this already extant linkage in the game or movie, we can help build the boy’s mind as we talk with the boy about the video game.
You can carry on this discussion with your son and add your own lessons in values, spirituality, suffering, death, life, and, ultimately, manhood. Especially if your son is playing an hour of videogames every weekday (which I do not recommend) and two or more hours every weekend, it’s essential that you integrate video game play into his conscious character and manhood maturation.
A dad, who did two tours with the Marines in Iraq, accomplished this goal this way (I’ve summarized a number of our counseling sessions here). “As you know, I came home messed up and you suggested I take the bull by the horns and talk to my 11-year-old son Cary about his video games. At first, I couldn’t even play the games without getting flashbacks. But gradually, I could, and it was a way to bond with Cary.
“Like, there’s a part in Halo where the Colonel tells Commander Locke what he believes:
‘You give your life away so others will live in peace. These people who live on after what you did carry part of your deeds with them. In their final hours, they will have to answer the question you asked in yours: with your life, would you only create death or with your death would you create life? That is my question to you, Commander Locke: how will you die, and for what?’
“I asked Cary if he understood what this meant. He said, ‘Yeah, Dad, it means you will sacrifice your life so other people can have their lives. It’s like what you were doing in Iraq.’ I cried right then, right in front of him, I cried and then he cried, too. We hugged each other. I was so proud of my boy.”
As this father told me about this incident, tears came to his eyes and my own. This father gave his son an amazing gift--that moral and developmental gift came through video games.
A dad or other mentor who has never been a soldier can do this with his son or mentee—indeed, I believe, he must. If an early adolescent boy is playing video games that can affect brain, heart, and soul without adequate mentoring by fathers or father-figures, manhood will be defined in the game for the boy without real men leading the self-definition.
The boy may not mature into the fully loving, wise, and successful man we want him to be.
Answer: Both coed and single gender schools can be great schools. Communities should have free choice.
In a new era of school choice developing in local communities and new priorities at the federal level, it is important to understand the science of boys’ and girls’ learning. In my thirty years in this field, I have consistently argued that we should no longer pit one kind of schooling against another. Coed and single gender schools can both be great schools. However, when I gave that exact answer in a media interview recently, the response came: “That’s a copout—pick one!”
This zero-sum request inspired three sub-questions I hope you will ponder as you look at best choices for your district’s children.
1. Some single gender schools have gotten great results so why not say single gender is just better?
Many coed schools get great results, too, but one of the reasons single gender schools often show quicker success results is the requirement in many single gender schools that faculty and staff be trained (and practice fidelity to) male/female learning difference theory and strategies. Because science-based professional development is inculcated in these schools, the teachers more quickly inculcate learning, discipline, and social-emotional development strategies that work for boys and/or girls.
Without that training, either a coed or single gender school can make major systemic mistakes in learning and discipline, and thus lose both male and female learners. Quite often, coed schools are slower than single gender schools to provide this gender-friendly training and science-based systemic analysis. They are not focused on gender-and-the-brain, so they try other kinds of PD or other curricula. Their slowness to look at male/female brain difference results in old methods of teaching that work less well than we want them to for the brains of boys and girls.
To see success data for both coed and single gender schools the Gurian Institute has worked with, please click http://www.gurianinstitute.com/single-gender-schools.html. That data illustrates both points: that coed and single gender schools can both flourish with the gender lens training, and that single gender schools often show quicker results than single gender because of their deliberate use of science-based training and innovation.
2. Are there specific populations that single gender schools and classrooms might be best suited for?
It is very possible for a single gender school or classroom to help certain populations in ways that a coed classroom may not (and vice versa). Here are examples regarding single gender classrooms.
1) Many shy and introverted girls, who often do not show the kind of leadership we would hope for them in coed classrooms, can shine better in single gender classrooms. This can be especially true in math/science classrooms at the middle school age, when there might be two or three very assertive, verbal, and math- or -science-smart boys who dominate the coed classroom. It can also be true in any large coed classroom in which boy behavior confuses the teacher and creates classroom management issues. In the single gender classroom, introverted girls will often talk more, answer questions more, and lead more. Teachers who are teaching girls-only classrooms become very good at bringing leadership qualities out of all these girls.
2) Many boys who are raised without fathers and without enough masculine maturation influence do not fully develop social-emotional and learning skills; these boys may, however, flourish in single gender classrooms because in these classrooms they may get a focus on the male mentoring they need from adults and peer mentors. Because teachers and administrators in boys’ schools are generally trained in and often specialize in how to build character, social-emotional maturity, peer mentoring groups, and learning success for boys, these boys can often make up for loss of maturation influence at home by finding it in the school.
Because single gender classes/schools can be beneficial to many girls and boys, I hope they will be increasingly available and optional for American schools. I believe, too, that if we insist on "better than coed” or “worse than coed,” the "vs" language will create ongoing backlash that is not good for our schools, teachers, or students. Most classrooms in America are and will always be coeducational. Rather than pretending they are inferior (or superior), I hope each community will support all communities in obtaining the success that comes from seeing educational reform through the gender lens.
3. But won’t single gender classrooms lead to dangerous segregation and gender stereotypes?
This is indeed the most discussed "disadvantage" of single gender schools I hear wherever I travel or do media. This objection generally divides into these parts:
*"If we separate boys and girls, not only will we increase gender stereotypes, but we will do children a disservice because adult, family, and work environments in their future will be coed.”
*”Separation of the genders is segregation (discriminatory); this didn’t work for the races so it should not be practiced with the genders.”
As to the first “disadvantage’:
*Both coed and single gender classrooms can teach gender stereotypes. These stereotypes are part of our social fabric and so we battle them on all fronts.
*Meanwhile, some of the most successful people in the world went to single gender schools, including recent Presidential runner-up, Hilary Clinton.
*There is no evidence that spending a few years in a single gender school somehow makes a person a bad spouse or bad worker or bad leader.
Interestingly, some researchers have found just the opposite. Researcher Patti Crane and her team in the late 1990s interviewed spouses of men who had gone to coed schools and spouses of men who had gone to boys’ schools (please see more on this in A FINE YOUNG MAN). The researchers wanted to see if there were differences in social emotional skills of the males. Surprising Crane and her colleagues, the spouses of the men from boys’ schools reported better aggregate communication and emotional interaction skills in their husbands than did the spouses of the men who had gone to coed schools.
Crane, who had assumed the “gender stereotypes” argument, came to realize that many of the boys in boys’ schools who do not have girls around to “do the emotional work for them learn to do that emotional work for themselves.” By the time they become adults, they become, in many cases, very good spouses indeed. Crane’s findings turned the “dangerous gender stereotypes” and “male segregation makes for bad husbands” arguments on their heels.
*Segregation language is false language for the single gender schools debate. The reason: single gender schools utilize brain science whereas racial segregation in the 1990s was based in no discernible science. As David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at MIT, recently noted: "If we compare a female and a male, genetic differences are 15 times greater than the genetic differences for two males or two females.” The genetic, neural, and biochemical differences between males and females are profound while brain differences between a black, Asian, or white male or black, Asian, or white female are not. Various aspects of culture can be somewhat different between races but race is nothing like gender to the brain.
Comparing single gender schools to racist schools mixes social principles in dangerous and merely ideological ways. Single gender learning is a science-based option that shows a school district’s understanding of how important the gender lens can be for learners and for people in everyday life. As you look at making the best decision in your communities—whether you choose between coed, single gender, Montessori, Waldorf, International School, or any other modality—I hope you will stay away from non-scientific ideologies. On www.michaelgurian.com you can click the About page and find “Research Reference List.” There, you will find more than one thousand science-based studies illustrating male/female brain difference. Even a brief perusal of those studies will, I hope, illustrate how robust is the need to innovate educationally for both genders, wherever the two genders fall on the gender spectrum.
While no one can truly say whether single gender or coed is better for every child—nor should we—we can say that now, after decades of brain science research, the great equalizer is teacher, staff, and parent training in male/female brain difference. If we pay attention to learning through a gender lens, each structural approach to learning can flourish.
4 girls. 2 at once!
How did I get so lucky? As a sister to 5, with no brothers, you would think I would have this girl thing down.
In many ways after 20+ years at the secondary level, I do. But it is different when it is one of your own. They told me that would happen.
As girls meander the abyss of what we call "tween" and "teenhood", it often looks much different than that of boys. The non-verbals, the exclusion,
the gossip and rumors. It seems no one is held harmless from this behavior in their social groups.
As a mom to a new 11 year old, and an up and coming 10 year old, the age difference is 11.5 months, but the expanse between them is now vast.
Her legs are longer than her torso, her hair is now important, and she is no longer a little girl....until bedtime when she still wants to be tucked in.
What started as doors being shut, are now doors slightly slamming. No one is allowed in the bathroom either. And every so often, I hear Beyonce songs shrilling out of the door like she is her back up singer.
This is an exciting time for her with the passage into middle school, but it is not for the faint of heart. Lots of tears as of late as the finality of school sets in. Friends are swapping friends, who is going to what school next year. You name it, at any moment the demons can creep in creating a huge shift in attitude and grace. I often tell parents that call me this is the "Come here, Go Away" phase of life....spray some Teflon on yourselves, let it slide, and hold on tight.
Listen in as Dr. Gurian takes this subject head on as we look at the current world and wonder of our girls. Off to get some PAM spray myself!
According to Smart Insights (www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing), Facebook is still the most widely used social networking app globally. Instant messenger apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are tied for second place. Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat are a little further down the chart, ranked as 7th, 9th, and 11th, respectively. These numbers indicate the number of people worldwide who are using the listed apps. See the chart below for more details.
Another important measurement to social media marketers is something called “engagement.” Engagement is how much time is spent by people on the respective apps. Not surprisingly, Facebook is still ranked number one, even in the 18-34 year old demographic, clocking in at more than 1,000 minutes per user per month. Wow.
The next app in line for minutes used is Snapchat. While significantly less than Facebook, Snapchat users are averaging approximately 400 minutes of use per month. The other social networks fall into place somewhere below Snapchat ((www.smartinsights.com/social-media-marketing). See the chart below.
In an article on Sprout Social (http://sproutsocial.com/insights/when-not-to-use-snapchat/) published in 2015, Snapchat is comprised of 30% male and 70% female. Furthermore, 71% of Snapchat users are under 25 years old. As a social media marketer, this is a really important piece of information. If I have a product or a service that I want to sell to girls between the ages of 18 and 25, I know where to go with my advertisements. As someone who uses social media to advertise for businesses, this is important to me.
Why should I care as a parent?
I care as a dad, because my teen daughters are now the targets of anyone who wants to sell them something or entice them, potentially for nefarious purposes. Among the top corporate posters on Snapchat are Buzzfeed, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, and a host of other relatively benign media outlets.
Prior to my life as a social media marketer, I was in law enforcement for 14 years, the better part of that time spent as a detective and a special agent investigating computer crimes, including sexual exploitation of minors and complex white collar crimes. Both categories concern me as a parent for a couple of reasons. First, the most common targets for criminals are children and the elderly. And second, now sophisticated criminals can use social media marketing techniques proven by the professionals to work very well for their own misdeeds.
According to Safe Smart and Social (www.safesmartsocial.com), 30% of teens still rank Snapchat as the most important social network, and 30% of Snapchat users claim to use the app because their parents don’t use it. Well, that’s telling.
Safe Smart and Social’s Josh Ochs provides the following tips for parents:
This parent highly recommends using services like www.safesmartsocial.com and www.commonsensemedia.org to become very familiar with apps our kids are using and start paying attention to how professional marketers are exploiting our kids’ passions.
Gurian Institute Certified Trainer
Father, Retired-Cop, Social Media Marketer
Ask Dr. Gurian: Is it always wrong to tell a child, "Stop crying!" Or to put this another way: Because I said this to my son when I was raising him, did I ruin his life?
Answer: “Stop crying" can be used too harshly and too often, but many times, this parenting strategy builds resilience, strength, and social adaptation.
When I was serving on a conference panel to discuss fatherhood recently, I heard another panel member tell the audience that a boy’s health depends on his crying and expressing feelings constantly—it was a flaw in masculinity, masculine training, and fathering, he said, to tell a child to stop crying.
This is a view we hear quite often, and my research agrees with this panelist’s opinion to a point: constant repression of a child’s emotional life is harmful. Crying and expressing one’s feelings are important social-emotional skills. But the panelist, and the popular view of this issue, oversimplify this issue, missing one of the important gifts of paternal nurturance.
Think for a moment about your own parenting. Haven’t you at some point watched a child whining and crying and thought, “There is no way that is functional.” Haven’t you quite naturally told a child: “Okay, stop crying, that’s enough, it’s time to do something about your problems.” I think we all have done something like that.
According to studies from four different continents, males, in general, tend to get to the point of ending a child’s tears more quickly than females. One reason is a less active male insula (the part of the brain that creates mirror neurons for empathetic response). The female insula tends to create more mirror neurons and retains its mirror neurons longer than the male, so it is not uncommon to hear more moms spending more time listening to and crying with a child than dads (though, obviously, a father can spend more time listening/crying with a child at any given moment, and a mother can spend less).
In the context of this male/female difference across cultures, Patricia Hawley, at the University of Missouri (featured in Saving Our Sons) has studied the subtleties of bi-strategic parenting—the application in child-rearing of both maternal and paternal (female and male) nurturing styles. They find that bi-strategic parenting has protected child development for millions of years, and even more subtle—and despite the public psychological narrative, especially regarding boys, that the more coercive and masculine approach is always dangerous to a child’s development—it is, in fact, essential to good, collaborative parenting.
To help us explore all this, let’s look at four scenarios.
Scenario 1: A father (or mother) says to a child, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” He or she is wielding a belt across the child’s behind.
Scenario 2: A mother (or father) says to a crying child, “Crying just makes you weak, I’m ashamed of you,” and walks away from the child.
Scenario 3: A father (or mother) says to a crying child, “That’s enough crying, it’s not helping anything,” and gives the child other emotional expression strategies.
Scenario 4: A mother (or father) says to a crying child, “If you see a problem, do something about it,” and helps the child stop crying so that s/he can problem solve, and take good action.
In the first two scenarios, brain-based psychological science would agree with the conference panelist that parents will likely cause social-emotional harm to their children, especially if the abuse or disrespect for tears is repeated constantly throughout childhood. In both 3 and 4, however, the parent who tells the child to stop crying, actually assists the child in building resilience, thus helping the child become a mature, self-regulating, problem-solving adult.
Children themselves need and want this kind of direction: a boy’s initial crying, for instance, is often his brain’s hyper-stimulated amygdala, tear glands, and other functions pleading for adults to help him answer his internal question, “How do I get stronger, more adult, more mature, more emotionally independent?” Just as much as he needs to cry, he may often need to stop crying and act.
In my own fathering of my children, I never hit of abuse them, but I did make the mistake of Scenario 2 at various times, ordering them to stop crying but not giving them new assets to replace the tears. I regret these moments. At the same time, there were many moments in their childhoods when I knew my children were crying, ventilating, and “feeling” too much. Maturity and resilience, I knew, would come if I did my part to help my children end their tears and initiate changes in their lives.
In these times, it was healthy for me as a father to tell my child, “Stop crying, get control of yourself, work on solving your problems.” My sub-text, in these situations, was “Crying and constantly talking about feelings is not necessarily the best thing in the world.” In this kind of nurturance, my insula finished quickly with its mirror neurons, and my brain saw “healthy parenting” from that perspective.
Brad Bushman, at Ohio State University, has completed research that helps us see wisdom in this other part of bi-strategic parenting. As he and his colleagues prepared to study emotional expression of young adults on social media, they assumed, like the panelist, that the more a child or adult expressed feelings (ventilating, talking, crying, asserting “how I feel”) the more functional and successful the adults would be.
Bushman and colleagues found something else: the young people, both males and females, who spent the most time in ventilating/expressive/ruminating behaviors were more depressed and less emotionally successful than the people who did not. Bushman reported his study and conclusions in Personality and Social Psychology. “The students in the rumination group were angrier and most aggressive while the students in the control group, who did nothing to vent their feelings, were the least angry or aggressive.”
Bushman is not contending that crying or expressing feelings is a bad thing—it is a good thing—but it can also be counterproductive. Dr. Bushman’s studies have been replicated by neuro-
psychiatrist Daniel Amen who tracks rumination and feeling-expression in brain scans. Dr. Amen told me: “The more extended and chronic the rumination we experience in the brain, the more at risk our brains are of ANTS (Anxious Negative Thoughts), which just continue the stress cycle of more emotional distress and more likelihood of anxiety and depression.”
Dr. Amen, author of Sex in the Brain and Unleashing the Power of the Female Brain, pointed out the male/female aspects of this. Males and fathers, he noted, tend to use fewer tears and fewer words-for-feelings than females and mothers. The anterior cingulate cortex of females is up to four times more active than the male’s; male tear glands are smaller than female tear glands after puberty comes; and the male cerebellum (the "doing" center of the brain) is larger and generally more active than in the female brain. Thus, in general, fathers are more likely than moms to try to end a child’s feeling-expression and move to problem-solving and “doing.”
In fathering my own children, I’m not proud of the mistakes I made, but my children, now grown, have told me they are glad I was “more masculine” in the way I parented them than their mom was. They loved how Gail parented, don’t get me wrong. What they were talking about was my attention to resilience over emotion; maturation over long drawn-out emotional expressions.
Parenting is messy and there is no single best way to parent. Our public psychological discourse generally wants parenting to be pure, orderly—and, especially, “not masculine.” But adulthood is a time when strength and resilience are as important as anything else, so we do need both maternal and paternal resources even despite the fact that we all agree on a broad and wide spectrum of what is male/female and maternal/paternal.
And from a larger social context, I believe we need to challenge panelists like the one I heard. When they say, “We want fathers more involved with kids,” but, simultaneously, take an incomplete or even a denigrating view of the gifts fathers bring, we must challenge them to think more deeply and see things more clearly.
And so, when you see dads (and moms and mentors) doing the sorts of things featured in scenarios 3 and 4, please congratulate them for telling their child it is okay to stop crying. Their basic approach is desperately needed by millennials and younger kids who often lack, today, the motivation, resilience, and follow through that strong, active, paternal nurturers can help develop in their growing children.
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Question: For love to last, what are the negative habits to change as soon as possible?
Answer: You’ve probably met couples in which one or both partners interrupt the other person in public. You might even be that couple! Sevda and Tarik were friends of Gail’s (my wife of 30 years) and mine during our early years of marriage. At parties or social gatherings, Sevda, a university professor, insisted that Tarik, a physician, was an “interruptor.” She also insisted that she was expressly not an interruptor. And she confessed that Tarik’s tendency to interrupt created significant marital difficulties.
She was right—it did, and Tarik was oblivious to the damage. Men are often unable to see the effects of their actions during interactions and conflicts. Male heart rates do not rise as high as women’s during a marital conflict or stressful situation, and males may not notice as much about the impending issues because they are not as stressed by a situation.
Scientists Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ron Glaser have found that not only women’s heart rates but their stress hormones epinephrine and nor-epinephrine rise during stressful situations in marriage more than men’s. Men’s “hearts,” literally, remain oblivious at times to the possible damage in their actions.
But that’s not the whole story. Women often tend to mirror the public male behavior (interrupting, in this case) in private in more damaging passive-aggressive ways than they realize. The very thing that drove Sevda crazy about Tarik in public also drove Tarik crazy about Sevda in private.
Interrupting more than one should is an example of a bad habit in marriage. Bad habits, taken cumulatively, can harm or destroy love and marriage. Fortunately, no marriage needs to be burdened by bad habits. Here are five habits you can identify and work on right now. If you are involved in three or more of these to a significant degree, your relationship could be in serious trouble right now or down the line.
To try to get immediately to the heart of the matter, reflect on this list separately with some blank paper on hand for writing notes, then compare your notes together afterward. Do this list twice—once for yourself (i.e. “look in the mirror at yourself”) and then for your partner: gently assess your partner’s habits.
Check List of Five Negative Marital Habits
1. Interrupt your partner in public or private? Perhaps you interrupt your partner in both settings. If so, give some examples of both. If just one setting, give some examples of dialogue of interruption in one setting. Some interruption is normal between best friends, but do you do it too much?
2. Avoid doing things you know make your partner happy? Perhaps you know that your partner would be very happy if you cleaned the house, but you avoid doing it. Perhaps you don’t just avoid doing it some of the time (some of the time would be a compromise), but instead, you avoid doing it all the time. Or you do it only when your partner forces you—perhaps through bribery, begging, or anger.
3. Avoid doing things sexually that either you really want to do and/or that you know your partner needs and wants to do? Give examples of sexual experiments you or your partner
want to try—write down why you avoid them. Be specific. If you remember conversations you and your partner have had about these things, write at least one of those conversations down.
4. Criticize your partner too much in public and/or in private? Some amount of critique, judgment, moralizing, and correcting of a partner’s behavior is normal in any long partnership. You care about your partner and figure you know what’s best for him or her. But do you criticize, judge, become reactive, or correct your partner on more than just a few things? If so, list those things.
5. Let your partner criticize, judge, moralize about, and correct you more than is safe for the development, growth, or stability of your own identity and self? It’s normal for all of us to defer to our partner’s critiques sometimes—if we didn’t, we’d lack an essential humility in our relationship. But if you are getting critiqued every day, and if you constantly assume your partner is right and you are wrong, your self-confidence is probably being significantly debilitated. List the critiques you “take” from your partner.
Assuming for a moment that you’ve both done this exercise, compare notes, talk, then use your lists and anecdotes as grist for relational improvement. As needed, talk with a counselor alone or together about these lists. If, as you talk about these things with your partner, one or both of you become either blaming or defensive, set a timer so that neither of you goes on and on (which can make the other defensive or bored or blaming). I suggest three minutes for each description or example of each bad habit (without interruption!). If either of you takes more than the allotted time or interrupts start the particular point over. If one of you tells the story by blaming, start it over. If one of you becomes defensive, start it over.
As you talk about these bad habits in a timed or other safe way, and as you gradually (or immediately) do it without blaming one another or becoming significantly defensive, you will be practicing intimate separateness. This paradox is the key to healthy marriage—the ability in relationship and marriage to stand apart independently while still embracing one another lovingly. Removing your bad habits can ensure healthy intimate separateness in your marriage—at the same time, just working on identifying and talking about those bad habits can be a first major step in the journey.