There is a problem with the way boys are raised.
Disclaimer: I don’t have a boy (yet), but I did have gender disappointment with both of my girls and it led me to think about the differences between boys and girls. See here.
My cousin has a boy. Well, all my cousins really. I seem to be the only one with girls. I’m thinking about one in particular though. His life is so gendered already and he isn’t even a year old. His life is full of sports themed paraphernalia, and strictly blue and boy themed clothing items. Sure his parents like baseball, but if he had been a girl he/she would not be decked out in sports themed girl stuff. Sports have become the male pink in this instance. Now I like blue enough to dress my kids in it, but this kid is the male equivalent of a girl only wearing frilly dresses. Which is slightly less acceptable these days. I haven’t ever met the kid in person, what with living far far away, but I worry about him, not for the way he dresses or his toys, but I worry about his parents pushing so much on him. Are they going to flip their shit if he plays with his mother’s makeup, if he wants a dolly or something less stereotypically male (but completely child-normal)? I guess that comes off a bit judgy, but it does worry me. I’m pro happy kids and well adjusted adults.
I was talking with a friend who does a playgroup that has lots of minority children. She was talking about one boy in particular and how his mother had told her off for comforting him when he was hurt. The mother said that the coddling would make the boy a sissy and that if he was crying what she wanted done was to smack him on the back and tell him to man up. I was flabbergasted. My friend was talking about this boy in the context of having behavior problems, hitting and having a short temper (for a three year old), and how she tried to sneak physical contact and hugs to him when his mother wasn’t looking. That anecdote just breaks my heart in a variety of ways. That poor kid is getting less physical contact and highly gender influenced access to affection. How is he ever going to learn to deal with his emotions as he gets older?
Having girls I’m well aware of gendered messages on clothing. I wanted to pull my hair out at all the little shirts that proclaim “Daddy’s Princess”, and various iterations of cute, beautiful, along with pink, sparkles and fake gems. But then I looked at the boy ones and they are just as bad. “Strong Dude”, “Lock up your Daughters” and iterations on being strong, tough, wild and active. Though I would have bought the ‘Mommy’s little Monster’ onesie if it had come in a size my kid could wear. Apparently girls are pretty, boys are active.
The same friend I mentioned above, the one who does the playgroup, has a boy. She’s also on a no yelling kick. Fine and dandy. Except that she mainly talks to her boy in a softer than conversational, slightly sing-song tone of voice. Especially when she’s trying to tell him off for being rough or something. Then he doesn’t listen. Perhaps its a public facade. Then she dismisses his acting out as being a boy. Makes me sigh it does. You can’t blame something not working on a given child on their gender. That sure as hell wouldn’t work on my kid and she isn’t a boy. I’m not sure that would work on any kid. I think with preschoolers and toddlers you really need to treat them a bit like dogs. Make sure you have eye contact, firmly and clearly make your point and so on. I often physically restrain my kid until she calms down and listens to me.
Then there’s the whole boys will be boys, excusing being uncontrolled, inconsiderate, impulsive and rough. People will tell you that boys need to be rough, boys are more active, more physical. My 3 year old girl is pretty physical and rough if you let her be too. Is my encouraging her to learn respect for boundaries, her own strength and to be aware of her surroundings quashing in her what makes boys boylike? Because boys are often thought of as just being boys- you can’t reason with them, they will be gross and clumsy and rough and need rough play and physical activity…I don’t see how boys specifically need that any more than girls do. If I had a boy I would sure be doing the same things I do with my girls- teaching them that physical activity is fun, hitting is bad, don’t be too rough, behavior is different inside versus outside and so on. I wouldn’t be letting boys will be boys exist as an excuse for anything. Because of that approach boys are often given more leeway into bad behaviour and it fulfills the boys will be boys stereotype. I say of my eldest girl- she needs physical activity, she likes rambunctious play, but I attribute it all to her personally, not to her gender. We don’t go around saying girls will be girls to explain away wanting to play quietly inside or anything. No, boys will be boys is a saying because those uncontrolled aspects of behaviour are generally viewed as less desirable.
So that sucks. I mean, your whole gender gets dismissed with one phrase as undisciplined and prone to undesirable acts and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
There are loads of how to raise boys, things to teach boys articles, and so on, on the internet. I know these might help people break away from the boys will be boys idea-the idea that you might as well just give up trying to manage your boys because after all, they are boys, but they are usually good general rules for all children.