Have you ever consoled your children differently? Of course no two children are the same, but if your son and your daughter both came to you with a problem about bullying, would you comfort them in a different way? Would you expect your comfort to have a different effect on them based on their gender?
As the parent of a school-aged child, I am becoming well-versed in the lingo of bullying awareness. When we were kids, neighborhood bullies were a fact of life and many of us endured and suffered through emotional hardships that we never want our kids to face. We don’t want our kids to be bullied, and we don’t want our kids to BE the bully. Many schools arm parents with tools and resources for how to wade through these situations. Instinctively, I believe we all know one of the best ways to combat bullying is to listen to our kids, love them, and see them through the crisis.
Researchers from the University of Michigan set out to study the role parents play on the long-term effects of bullying. They wanted to know just how effective a mother’s love could be against a bully. Could moms actually stop negative behavioral outcomes?
Earlier this month they released the results of their five-year-long study. Their results sound awesome if you are the mom of a daughter, but they are brutal for moms of sons.
“For girls, receiving their mothers’ warmth and open communication significantly reduced the harmful effects of being victimized by peers. For boys, however, early negative peer experiences led to a significant increase in antisocial outcomes, regardless of their relationships with their mothers.”
The headline on the Michigan University website sharing the results of this study was alarming: “Bullied Girls, But Not Boys, Benefit from Mom’s Support.”
The study, led by Grace Yang, Ph.D and Dr. Vonnie McLoyd, the Ewart A. C. Thomas Collegiate Professor of Psychology, evaluated over 1,000 children who were aged 8 or older.
According to an assessment of the study done by Psych Central:
“Participants answered questions about whether they had been bullied in school or in the neighborhood during the previous month. They rated if someone ‘picked on me or said mean things to me,’ ‘hit me’ or ‘purposely left me out of my friends’ activities.’ About 68 percent of the kids reported being a target.”
The researchers returned to the homes five years later and documented the social dynamics within the home. They found that the girls didn’t seem to have suffered any long-term negative effects from the bullying, but the boys did.
This is what they consider negative effects: “Male victims of bullying had higher levels of antisocial behavior.”
Really? Thirteen-year-old boys are being antisocial? You don’t say.
Dr. McLoyd said the study indicated mothers didn’t communicate as often with their sons as they did with their daughters. I was shocked to see Dr. McLoyd pin the lack of communication on the kids by saying, “This difference probably reflects a lesser tendency for sons, compared with daughters, to initiate discussions with their mothers.”
My head exploded while reading about this study because, as you can probably guess, I am the mother to a son. What this study is essentially telling me is, “It doesn’t really matter if you comfort your boy after he has been bullied, it’s not going to help.”
This is ridiculous. It absolutely DOES matter. Our boys are every bit as entitled to receive our love and affection after a bullying incident as our girls are. So what if five years later our boys are more aloof. Is it really a reason to stop showing them care and concern?
I reached out to my friend Dawn Friedman, who has a masters in education and is a licensed professional counselor, to find out what she thought about this study. She found it to be incomplete and failing to address how some parents may be socialized to communicate differently with their boys vs. their girls:
“While girls are socialized to seek support when relationships go awry, boys are often told to be stoic and go it alone. It’s important that parents reach out to their sons — particularly if they sense there’s a problem — whether or not their sons initiate a conversation.”
The CDC reports that 20% of students in grades 9 – 12 experience bullying (other sources have this number much higher). Please don’t think your son isn’t worth your affection or time if he has been the victim of bullying.
Stop Bullying, the anti-bullying site created by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, suggests parents engage in conversation with their kids for at least 15 minutes a day. By doing so we reassure our little ones that we are here for them and that they can talk to us about anything from the most mundane parts of their day, to anything heavy going on.
The drive to and from my son’s school gives us a lot of time to talk. It can take a while to get my 6-year-old to open up, but it’s important that he knows he can share with me. I have no idea if mothers communicate differently with their daughters, but I can’t imagine it’s that far off.
How about, when it comes to comforting our kids, we remove gender from the equation. Comfort because it is needed, because it helps, because we truly don’t know the long term effects for ALL kids.More On