Gender Differences: Boy Friendships: Girl Friendships

Different? Heck yeah! Our blog series on Gender Differences

“There is no such thing as a ‘child’: there are only boys and girls.” ~ Dr. Leonard Sax

Post 5: Boy Friendships: Girl Friendships

We’re running a blog series on the differences between girls and boys, based on our popular podcast episodes, They Sure are Different! Parenting Boys and Girls in a Messy World and Parenting and appreciating the differences between boys and girls. We also recommend Leonard Sax’s classic book Why Gender Matters for more information and data on this issue. As parents we need to become students of our children: we need to learn all about them and know them well. We can identify our child’s temperament and love languages, but learning about your child as a boy or as a girl is probably even more important! This is because the differences between the sexes are the largest at birth and childhood, and decrease as the child grows.

In friendships, boys stand shoulder to shoulder looking at something. Whatever that “thing” is–a sport, a game, a topic–is central to the relationship, and as many boys who are obsessed by that thing are welcome to join. Gatherings are organized around that activity, and conversation is incidental and can be optional, as anyone who’s heard a group of boys playing video games knows. Boys tend to form hierarchies and are comfortable with them, even if it means they’re on the “lower” end. When a boy is stressed, he generally wants to be left alone and will avoid his friend group, a warning sign parents should pay attention to. And typically boys will go to great lengths to avoid showing emotions about their friendships.

Girls in friendships tend to stand face to face. Talking with their friends is central to their relationship, and they tend to enjoy talking, sharing secrets, or just being together. In the inverse of boys, girl gatherings are organized around talking, with activities being incidental and even optional! When a girl is stressed, she wants to be with her friends more, which is why girls tend to weather times of crisis better than boys. For girls, sharing feelings is a precious gift, and hierarchies destroy friendships. Do you see what we mean when we say boys and girls are REALLY different?

How do you help children of each gender navigate friendships?  In general, when friends are around, parents should “hover”: not actually engaging in the conversation, but doing something nearby (ie: cleaning, organizing) so that you’re aware of what’s going on and can easily intervene if things start to deteriorate. It’s good to break the tension at times “by accident.” Boys in groups need more attention: they can do stupid stuff, especially if they know or think you’re not around. (Rule of thumb: leaving a group of boys alone in your house for a long length of time is a recipe for disaster!)

After friends leave, make yourself available: same when kids or teens come home from an event with friends. Ask them what happened and listen attentively, whether it’s relationship analysis or bragging. Girls may want to discuss their friend issues with you and may downplay their own prowess or achievements. Boys will probably tell you about anything super-cool they did that they think you would admire (and cultivate an interest in their activities so they know you will do it!), but boys generally won’t want to talk about their friendship problems, and they certainly don’t want you to get involved.

With boys and girls, different areas of the brain mature at different rates, which can make some things– like learning to read (for boys) or do math (for girls) — a challenge. However, as children become teens and then adults and their brains reach full maturity, the sex-specific differences decrease. Teens and young adults can easily be fooled by this change into thinking that those differences never actually existed (and may believe those who say they are socially constructed) but hopefully their parents remember those differences and know better!

This is one reason why the most fruitful dating and courtship happens AFTER full brain maturity has taken place, when both sexes are in a better position to understand the other and learn from each other. Isn’t it amazing how God designed this, so that a man and woman can marry and raise children together?  Each can draw from their own experience of having been a boy or a girl and share that with one another as they parent their own sons and daughters, deepening and enriching their understanding of the other sex. God designed it that way, and we wouldn’t change a thing!