Boys and Girls ARE different but not the way we thought

In 2019 we know more about the way our brains develop. This includes differences between girls and boys, because, yes, they are different!

We already know that the early years really matter in the healthy development of all children, and now we know that for boys it matters even more! Neurobiological research reviewed by Schore (2017) provide some valuable insight on these early years:

Baby boys are more vulnerable to stress

Boys mature slower physically, socially and linguistically. Their ability to regulate stress also develops more slowly prenatally and postnatally. Therefore it is natural that stress in a boy’s environment during the early years, inside and outside the womb effects them more than it does girls.

Apart from differences found in stress levels at birth, at six months, boys show more frustration than girls do. At 12 months boys show a greater reaction to negative stimuli.

Care for all babies … boys need it especially!

This means that naturally boys during the early years could be more demanding, have more difficult times regulating their emotions and may need more support from their parents to calm down.

The need to provide a secure and sensitively responsive parent-child relationship that helps regulate emotions is essential in the first year to ensure the healthy social and emotional development of our boys.

Being male 2019 – living in a Man Box

A couple of years ago, the attitudes and understandings of manhood of young men ages 18 to 30 were examined. 

Despite us being well into the 21st century, most men still feel pushed to live in the “Man Box”—a rigid construct of cultural ideas about male identity. This includes being:

  • self-sufficient,
  • acting tough,
  • looking physically attractive,
  • sticking to rigid gender roles,
  • being heterosexual,
  • having sexual prowess, and
  • using aggression to resolve conflicts.” (Heilman, et al., 2017)

Imagine trying to fit into this Man Box and shaping your identity accordingly. This creates great pressure and stress and can put men’s health and well-being at risk, to detach from intimate friendships and to resist seeking help when they need it.

In my experience as a Counsellor, men can experience culturally accepted emotional neglect and this can and often causes feelings of shame and trauma from being raised and influenced to live up to toxic masculinity. 

Boys who grow up in the Man Box are more prone to depression and suicide

The Man Box study clearly showed that men’s mental health improved when men didn’t feel they had to continue fitting into the stereotype of “being a man”:

  • 41% of the participants who lived by the stereotype, showed signs of depression. This reduced to 26% for men who were free of the “man box”.
  • 40% of the participants in the “man box” reported having thoughts of suicide in the last two weeks. This reduced to 17% for the men free of the man box.

Our Boys deserve better

So how can we raise our boys? Mothers and fathers play a vital role to help their sons be in touch with their emotions and seek connection with others:

  • From the very start boys and girls need to be equally held and cuddled;
  • Encourage boys to experience and express their emotions, this will in turn help them develop the capacity to empathize with others;
  • Mothers can maintain their emotional connection while supporting boys to identify with their father. Boys benefit from both maternal and paternal identification;
  • When faced with a problem or conflict, encourage boys to use their emotional intelligence by for example suggesting they put themselves in the shoes of the other person.

When both men and women are allowed to experience their emotions and express them openly, society will stand to gain. Emotionally connected individuals with a capacity for compassion and empathy for themselves and others, will create an undoubtedly better world for both men and women… and it starts from you and your son, today!

Heilman, B., Barker, G., and Harrison, A. (2017). The Man Box: A Study on Being a Young Man in the US, UK, and Mexico.

Schore, A. N. (2017). All our sons: The developmental neurobiology and neuroendocrinology of boys at risk. Infant Mental Health Journal, e-pub ahead of print doi: 10.1002/imhj.21616

Image: By Lorie Shaull from Washington, United States – Boys Will Be Good Humans…and you, my friend, are a good human. Thank you for marching!, CC BY-SA 2.0,

Willingness Team