“What’s the matter with boys and young men?” is a question that’s been raised more frequently in recent months, in connection with a number of issues: President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative (focusing on young men of color), persistent concerns about absent fathers, and high-profile (though statistically very rare) incidents of mass violence where the shooter (nearly always) is a severely disturbed young man.
Sex differences in child well-being develop before birth; boys are more likely to be born prematurely than girls (which can lead to infant death or lasting disability), and male sex is associated with a number of other negative pregnancy outcomes. As they grow up, boys are more likely than girls to have moderate-to-severe developmental delays, and more likely to have a special health care need.1 Over the life course, a number of health and developmental concerns are more prevalent in boys than in girls. For example, the prevalence of autism is four times higher in boys than in girls. Males are diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)more than twice as frequently as females, and generally havepoorer self-regulation skills than females of comparable age.
Among black students, the gender gaps in sports participation (favoring males), and in caring about doing well in school (favoring females), are significantly greater than they are within the overall sample. Among Hispanic students, the gender gap in caring about doing well in school is significantly smaller than in the overall sample. Among white students, the gender gap in participation in after-school activities (favoring females) is even greater than it is in the overall sample, and the gender gap in sports participation is smaller (favoring males).
The respective roles that genetics, child temperament, parenting style, neighborhoods, the school environment, and other factors may play in these gender differences are incompletely understood. But there are opportunities at multiple levels, from the family to the community, for practice and policy changes to improve outcomes for all children.2 The gender stereotypes that persist in many families, and the number of children living with their single mothers only (particularly high among black children), may contribute to some of the challenges boys and young men face. A number of parenting interventions, such as Triple P and The Incredible Years, have been shown to be effective in improving both parenting practices and child outcomes. Schools are another place where increased attention to meeting the specific needs of boys may be called for to address the disaffection and lack of engagement more often experienced by male students. Like families, schools often participate in the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, both explicitly and implicitly. In the k-12 years, women make up the majority of teachers – 97 percent of pre-K and kindergarten teachers, 81 percent of elementary and middle school teachers, and 57 percent of secondary school teachers. At school, greater time for active play (such as recess), could contribute to environments that are more congenial to many boys’ dispositions. At the same time, there are school-based programs, such as Second Step, that show effectiveness at addressing problem behaviors predominantly experienced by boys. Mass media continue to perpetuate a range of restrictive stereotypes for both males and females, including roles as the predominant perpetrators and victims, respectively, of violence.