“It’s a man’s world” (so the song goes…), but apparently not a boy’s one. The panic about them under-achieving at school began in the 1990s (but apparently dates back to the 1950s). Not only do girls out-perform in the classroom, their choice of playground games doesn’t set them up for building social skills either. Girls are reportedly more verbal, more collaborative and social at an earlier age; in contrast boys’ play is more physical, coupled with a seemingly universal desire to ‘kill the baddies’.
The press also talk about how girls out-perform boys due to their higher work ethic and better concentration. There’s praise aplenty for those who can sit still (on planes, trains and automobiles) and in general, ‘girl-traits’ are applauded. So what happens if you have boys?
As a mum of boys, I find myself apologising a fair bit: when they are a bit overly exuberant in shoe shops; when they roar in shy girl’s faces (don’t ask me why); when they are not concentrating as much as they should in lessons.
Initially I was in denial of the differences, the association with Fred Flintstone and all that comes with it. My eldest probably didn’t flourish into his ‘boyness’ until his younger brother was born. He had gender-neutral toys; as well as a pram (albeit a blue one) and a toy kitchen. He did baby ballet as well as football. Whilst we still had the pram, kitchen and the dinky ballet shoes for my youngest, he identified more strongly with being a ‘boy’ from the start. This was when I finally accepted my status as a full hard-carrying member of the B-team. B for boisterous, b for barbarian, b for boys.
A few years later and I’m buying camo-patterned trousers; putting my foot down against their requests for toy guns and rolling my eyes to other adults as we bundle our way in (and out) of shops and cafes. It’s a shame really – whilst I feel disloyal to them, my social conscience gets the better of me.
I know boisterous boys aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but the thing is – they are really lovely (and they are mine!). They were built to hunt, to gather, not to sit still. They are just happy, energetic, fun-loving and… loud. However, I’m not immune to judging eyes suggesting they should be under be ‘under better control’. Of course I would like them to know when to run around (in open spaces), and when to simmer-down (restaurants). But, that’s what growing-up is all about – and it’s going to take them until adulthood to do that.
Given that they’re young and mean no harm, I want to cut them a little slack (as well as to be cut a little slack myself). I need to choose my battles. If I can see that they are trying, doing their best, then that’s all that I can expect. I also don’t want them to assume they have to mess around to ‘be a boy’, or be ‘tough’ (especially given the recent headlines about the mental health of boys).
It’s sad that kids divide themselves by gender so young – luckily some of my best friends have daughters that mine happily play with. Hopefully they’ll all have strengths that will rub-off on each other. A friend commented only the other day that she likes the energy, enthusiasm and gung-ho spirit that my boys bring. I also know mine love playing with hers (and most recently, their introduction to Acqua Beads).
B may be for boisterous, but also for brilliant.