If there's anything I've learned about parenting a boy, it's that no matter what you do, you'll probably doubt yourself a whole bunch. Pick him up when he's crying and you're "coddling." Let him paint his fingernails? He'll be bullied at school. Teach him to stand up to bullies? You're raising a regressive macho man. That's why new research that says boys are actually more sensitive than girls is making a bunch of those doubts disappear -- and hopefully opening up people's minds about what our little boys really need the most: Love.
Have parents not been treating their baby boys the right way? Possibly, suggests Dr. Allan Schore, a clinical psychologist at UCLA who recently published a research article in the Infant Mental Health Journal claiming that baby boys are much more sensitive than girls, and develop emotion at a slower rate.
What does this mean for how we parent our boys ... and have we been doing it wrong this whole time?!
According to Dr. Schore, newborn boys are brought into the world less capable of handling stressors, compared to girls. He says male brains mature at a slower rate, which means baby boy brains are more vulnerable over a longer period of time to various stressors and toxins that can have negative impacts on their development.
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Schore goes on to state that because of this slower development, boys are more at risk for various neuropsychiatric disorders like autism, early onset schizophrenia, and attention deficit disorder. Girls, on the other hand, are born with faster developing brains and emotions, which makes them more resilient and equipped to handle tough situations.
It's ironic then that as a society, we have long attached ourselves to stereotypical gender ideals that portray young girls as weak and helpless and young boys as strong and independent. There have been a variety of studies that prove we treat baby boys and girls differently, but a lot of that is based on presumptions we have, and not necessarily on actual science.
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So what does this all mean? Have we been screwing over our boys because our society is entrenched in toxic masculinity that suggests that "boys are tough" and we should just let them cry it out because it "builds character"?
While we may not have been intentionally harming our boys, it doesn't hurt to pay attention to this new information and weave it into our parenting. My son is 10 years old, and he's always been a super sensitive and emotional boy. We never tried to suppress that, and now I'm glad I followed my gut instinct. We did pick up my son and console him when he cried. I am a product of Free to Be You and Me, and so "It's Alright to Cry" was a staple in our house when my son was young, along with other songs and stories that defied gender stereotypes.
And I'm glad.
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While some might have called how we parented our son "spoiling" or "coddling," I like to think that we nurtured our child and allowed him to feel comfortable in his emotions and develop healthy attachments. Now, at 10, he is very empathetic and plays beautifully with younger kids, who seem to glom onto him.
I'm not saying we did everything right (not at all!), but something inside me encouraged me to be sweet and kind and gentle with my son, despite societal messages aimed at boys to "man up."
Now that we have this information, what can we do with it? Well, for parents of newborn and young boys, that means we can feel okay snuggling our sons as much as possible, enjoying all that skin-to-skin- contact, or perhaps simply increasing the amount of quality time we spend holding and talking to our babies. Just like we would with our baby girls.
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It also might mean changing how we parent in other ways, as our sons grow. Knowing that brain development is different can impact how we talk to or even discipline our boys. It can also impact the way we advocate for and support them in certain situations, like at school.
There will always be new studies and reports that offer up something new when it comes to parenting and how we treat our children -- of that I am distinctly aware. But, I don't see the harm in anyone's telling us to hug and cuddle our babies just a bit more than usual.