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June 14, 2013

Is “boys will be boys” an American excuse?

By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

Naughty boy

They're little boys – they can't sit still. 

Of all the gender stereotypes that sweep through our casual conversation, this one is probably the most enduring.  It's the line invoked by kindergarten teachers I know bemoaning the new standards that force them to drill academics to 4-year-olds.  It's the excuse of mothers whose little Nicos and Connors can't handle preschool circle time.  In fact, it carries such sway, many people – including this writer – never considered it a gender stereotype at all, but more of a developmental fact.  Boys are supposed to be not only more physical, but less self-controlled than their little pink-clad counterparts, right?

Snips and snails and American puppy dog tails.

But then this week, a new study came out suggesting that it's not all little boys who can't control their impulses as well as little girls. It's American little boys.  A recent study of self-control in Asian and American children found a gender gap between American girls and boys, but none between Asian kids. 

The study conducted assessments of 814 children from America, Taiwan, Korea, and China, observing them in the laboratory, as well as surveying their teachers. The results, which appear in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, suggest that culture, not biology, may be the factor leading to all that squirmy behavior. 

"What can we learn from Asian cultural and teaching practices about how we can support girls and boys to be successful in school?" asked the study's lead researcher Shannon Wanless. "When we see differences in developmental patterns across countries, it suggests that we might want to look at teaching and parenting practices in those countries and think about how they might apply in the United States."

Is it really so important? Can't boys just be allowed to develop at their own rhythm?

Many parents and educators would say yes. But since early self-control is linked to academic success much later on (see details on the famous marshmallow test) and Asian high school students are regularly trouncing American kids on international tests, it's worth asking the question: Are we observing a fact of life about American boys?  Or are they just rising to meet our expectations?


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We have actually lost potential (female) students because of their parents falling into this pit of theory/ideology. When this has happened BOTH genders of the girls parents verbally stated they were happy to have ONLY girls... I see a shock on the way for these parents/girls if they take this bias to k-12...

This comment is the last straw for me. Because of gender, misbehaving is acceptable. Hogwash. Maybe we can use this cliché when these children become batterers and murderers.

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