Letter to all Mums with little boys
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice,
And all things nice.
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails,
And puppy-dog tails.
If you have heard this old English rhyme then I am sure secretly you would have chuckled at how true it was. And you just have to peep into the neighbourhood play school to confirm it. Where the girls would be sitting quietly drawing, painting or charming the teacher with their pert little smart answers, the boys can be seen scaling windows, redecorating each other and the walls and then letting out a war cry once in a while in the midst of teachers reprimands.
A few years down the line they might be in junior school and the picture has not changed much. Walk into a class and you will be fascinated at the gender divide. Girls, maintaining their disdainful distance, seem so “together”. In contrast the boys are just all over the place. Daydreaming, spaced out, antsy, rowdy, distracted, kicking each other under the desks and generally playing the clown. Let loose from their classes they go hurtling down the stairs, pushing, shouting, shoving their way to the fields.
Fast-forward to the senior school and this contrast takes on an intriguing turn. The adolescence hits the girls in a big way too but like typical internalisers they keep it all in. They cry, withdraw, worry, brood, loose their appetite and sleep. Or they set out to achieve. The board results year after year are a clear example of that.
However, our boys are hardwired to externalise. They start craving for excitement, speed, thrill, constant stimulation to ease out their troubles. It could range from internet surfing, TV, chatting on the phone, video games to more severe addictions like smoking, drugs and alcohol. Newspapers nowadays are full of horrifying stories of teenage drunken driving, speeding and rampant violence. Being natural thrill seekers, it is not surprising that their brains take to these instant addictions like fish to water. As the famous neurologist, Dr Louann Brizendine commented, “testicular surges of testosterone marinate the teenage boys’ brains”.
It is so easy to judge them and shrug them off as, “badly behaved boys” but do we really understand them? Do we know how their brains are wired and what makes them tick? I believe that we are letting our boys down. It might seem like a broad generalisation but internationally there has been enough body of research evidence, which does back my claim. It was Nobel Laureate and eminent novelist, Doris Lessing who pointed out that boys were the new silent victims in the sex war where they are being “continually demeaned and insulted” and subject to “automatic rubbishing”. I couldn’t agree with her more.
Boys are misfits in our present culture. We are ourselves so confused about how we want them to be. Unlike the previous generation we want them to be sensitive, gentle, talk about their feelings, be in touch with their feminine side but then only to a limit. We don’t want them to cry (what a sissy!) but be tough, forceful, assertive and even aggressive if required. As a confused16 year old Raghav once told me, “I don’t know how to show my parents that I am upset about something. If I tell them they ignore me, if I get angry they shout at me, if I cry they laugh at me. I have decided to stay quiet now”. There are many Raghavs out there dulling their pain with any thrill that comes their way. Higher the risk, the better it feels.
- Male Brain: compared to girls, the boys’ brains take a little longer time to mature. Their attention span is less, they are a little more disorganised, verbally not so adept, socially awkward. When they reach the teens they constantly look for testosterone surge (thrill seeking) in contrast to girls’ need for oxytocin high (talking, connecting). So rather than being critical, accept that and provide him scaffolding to keep him a little more organised. Find him healthy and safe ways to seek excitement in terms of adventure sports, regular physical activity and forays into nature.
- Male Mentors: it is really interesting to note that most boys are surrounded by women from the time they are little; mother, aunts, grandmothers, maids, teachers. They might be most nurturing, attentive and kind but they really have no clue what it is to be a boy. Boys need balanced male role models to show them how to manage emotions, be responsible, assert, manage bullies, how to relate to and respect girls, how to seek healthy stimulation without going overboard. They need a male mentor who understands their struggle without breaking into a lecture, “At your age I was….”
- Break out of the Stereotype: help him to break out of the restrictive stereotype. Talk about feelings, listen to him, let him cry, share his worries, be sensitive and gentle with him. Encourage him to help you out in the house. Depending on his age, let him experiment in the kitchen. There is something to be said about cooking and testosterone high (we have enough male chefs to prove it). Till the time he will let you, do cuddle him, hug him and kiss him (never in front of his friends though).
More than anything, marvel at him. Make him feel that despite the red marks in the notebooks, repeated complaints from the school and the messy room you still think that he is the most special person in the world. Take interest in his fantasies, his world of cars, dinosaurs, dragons and mysterious creatures. Have faith that he will definitely blossom one day.
And he will remember you for believing in him when nobody else did.
Dr Shelja Sen
Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Family Therapist