Most people struggling through a relationship have read Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus to work through their woes and their frustrations of having to deal with the opposite sex. The fact is that while we fight tooth and nail for equality of the sexes, we are essentially different.
There are fundamental differences in the brain structures of boys and girls that parents should be aware. I recently spoke at a women’s leadership conference on the fundamental difference of the two brains and how it affects leadership styles and why women are now increasingly being looked at for key leadership positions. I spoke about how men tend to be more task oriented, women more relationship oriented. Men tend to be more autocratic and transactional, women more democratic. Men more directive, while women participative and transformational. An article in Business Week stated that: ‘After years of analyzing what makes leaders most effective and figuring out who’s got the Right Stuff, management gurus now know how to boost the odds of getting a great executive: Hire a female.’
A page from a mother’s diary
‘You know, Mamma, the Bubbles caught the frog and put it inside his socks. Then he took it up to our classroom and placed it on the floor beside his desk. By the time Miss Prerna entered the class, the frog was jumping around and croaking. The boys clapped, hooted, and the girls screamed and huddled in one corner. Miss was very angry and wrote in Bubbles’ diary that she wants to meet you tomorrow after school. Bubbles, GO—show Mamma your diary.’
My 12-year-old daughter, Bunny’s eyes shone in anticipation of my reaction after her well-animated commentary. She was obviously expecting some high drama from my end. I looked at him. He neither budged, nor moved, nor uttered a word of protest throughout his sister’s report on his not-so-savoury deeds in school. There stood my 12-yearold— a portion of his crushed and dirty shirt hanging outside his shorts, hair dishevelled, head hung down, standing still, staring at his finger nails. I drew him close to me and asked, ‘Why have you done this, son? Wasn’t it just a week back that you brought that kitten home and hid it in your cupboard? I explained to you why it wasn’t the right thing to do, didn’t I? Why have you done it again?’ ‘M-A-M-M-A!!’ Bunny interrupted as usual. ‘I thought you’d give him a good dressing down for this! But you aren’t scolding him at all. You’re s-o-o-o partial! If I eat the whole packet of Oreo biscuits after lunch then that is wrong, but when Bubbles carries a frog to class, you don’t scold him at all, WHY? I know you love him more than me, I know for sure.’ And the predictable happened—she burst into tears, ran to her room, and slammed the door shut. I turned towards him. He quietly said, ‘I wanted to bring the frog home because I wanted to keep it as a pet. Mamma, will Miss Prerna shout at you tomorrow?’
‘Even if she does, will you feel bad for me?’ I asked. ‘I don’t know. I’m hungry, gimme lunch.’ Matter closed. I often wonder why it is so difficult for me to talk to my boy. Any question relating to ‘how do you feel’ or ‘what do you think’ has been routinely resisted by his ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t understand these things’. But before you can even ask my girl anything to the same effect, she is ready with a whole list of answers—how she feels and why and what she feels, why/what/how her brother should feel, or I and her father should feel!
How children change with time! When Bubbles and Bunny were toddlers, Bubbles was the one who would howl and cry to express his likes/dislikes and Bunny would be my quiet angel playing all by herself. But now, they seem to have swapped places. I wonder—are all boys different from girls in terms of their behaviour and attitudes or am I stereotyping them? Whatever it is, I have begun to feel that raising a boy child is not exactly the same as raising a girl child. They look at life differently and expect parents to treat them differently, too.’
For any one of us who has had a relationship with the opposite sex, we know that men and women are very different creatures indeed and this difference kicks in from childhood. We reinforce it, of course. I know a father who picks his son up whenever he falls, rubs his knee and says, ‘Brave boy. You did not cry. Go play.’ The same father, when his daughter falls, reacts by hitting the ground where she fell, saying, ‘Naughty floor. You hurt my baby!’
How is a boy child different from a girl child?
‘Raj and I child-proofed our entire apartment when Nidhi began to crawl. We thought we were ready for everything until Nevaan came along three years ago. He climbs on everything and throws everything out of the window—the table clock, hair brush, books, the newspaper. His latest fascination is to hang from my open kitchen cabinet door. I’m constantly worried that he’s either going to hurt himself or trash the house. How can my kids be so different? They are both being raised in the same environment.’ Rashmi narrated to me one evening over a cup of tea. ‘So, how then will the parenting techniques you tell me about have the same impact on both of them when boys and girls are so different right from the beginning? Do you think the same methods will work?’
To answer the question let us look at the difference between boys and girls. For all the equality that the genders may claim in social life, the fact remains that girls and boys are different. In the last two decades we have learnt so much about the difference in male and female brain structures, yet we educate and parent boys and girls in the same way. Without going into the science at great length, the major differences that exist due to differing brain structures are that:
• in most cases, female brains mature earlier than male brains;
• females can acquire complex verbal skills including reading, achieving a larger vocabulary, and mastering grammar much earlier than males. This makes males rely heavily on non-verbal communication and are less likely to verbalize feelings. Current research also suggests that 67 percent of males throughout their life are visual learners. This means that they do not benefit from learning that relies on conversation and words;
• the corpus callosum in the brain is a bundle of nerves that connects emotion and cognition. In females it is up to 20 percent larger than in males, which is why females are usually better at making decisions and anything else requiring sensory processing skills. This means that females have better verbal abilities and research suggests that this is a major reason why women are also better at multi-tasking;
• brain chemicals in males and females differ. The male brain secretes less serotonin than in the female, making the male more impulsive in general; and
• females release higher levels of oxtocin, which makes them capable of quicker and more immediate empathetic responses to others’ pain and needs. Oxtocin also reduces the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, and facilitates bonding. It may be called the ‘cuddle hormone’ in this respect because it tends to encourage more affection. Thus, females are better at expressing their emotions.
Apart from the differences in the brain, we also know that there are essential hormonal differences between males and females. Females are dominated by estrogen and progesterone. Males by testosterone. Simply put, men usually require more action. There are a lot of subtle learning differences because of this but I will include those in a teaching guide! From a parenting point of views we need to be aware that boys will speak fewer words than girl, and will probably start talking later than the girl. The boy child will need more movement, even when studying, as this helps them to stimulate their brains and relieve impulsive behaviour. Boys and girls both like pictures and visual diagrams but boys will rely on them more than girls.
We as parents naturally need to be discreet while making decisions on what will work the best for our children. Our daily interaction with and observation of our child makes us more knowledgeable than any educator or psychologist to identify the uniqueness in him.
These evolutionary differences notwithstanding, the general level of intelligence in boys and girls is similar. Leonard Sax, the author of Why Gender Matters, says, ‘There are no differences in what girls and boys can learn. But there are big differences in the way to teach them.’