Helping Boys Deal with Negative Stereotypes

Photo by Pat Knight via Flickr

Boys are subject to negative stereotypes too.

If you’ve been parenting boys for awhile, that fact probably isn’t news to you. You’ve probably heard your son complain about teachers who treat boys differently than girls. Maybe you’ve seen the way other moms watch your son — and you — at the park, as if they expect your son to cause trouble at any moment.

If you’re new to parenting boys, it might surprise you to learn that a lot people assume (consciously and subconsciously) that boys are troublemakers. Worse yet, these assumptions color the way people talk about and interact with our boys — which affects our boys, socially and emotionally.

A 2018 study, The Education of Playful Boys: Class Clowns in the Classroom, found that kindergarten teachers regard active, playful boys as “rebellious” and “intrusive.” These attitudes transferred to the children. By the time the children were in 3rd grade, both the boys and their classmates had internalized the teachers’ negative perceptions of the “class clowns.” Is is any wonder that boys, on a whole, are less interested in school than girls? Or that boys are far more likely than girls to be suspended and expelled?

Despite its prevalence, anti-boy/anti-male bias is not often discussed. Socially, we’ve made a lot of progress in addressing racial stereotypes and sexist behavior toward women, but negative assumptions about males are rarely acknowledged. One of the things we can do, as boy parents and advocates, is draw attention to persistent negative stereotypes. We can point them out. We can share our experiences with other families and insist on equitable treatment of our boys. And we can talk honestly about negative stereotypes.

Our boys already know that many people are quick to assume the worst about boys. They need us to acknowledge that fact. They need us to help them untangle stereotype from reality. We also have to equip our boys with the tools they need to stand strong in the face of anti-boy messages. You can begin by loving your son unconditionally, as is.

In this episode, Janet & Jen:
  • The “feel good” news story about middle school boys befriending a boy with autism at a local skate park — and the negative stereotypes embedded in that story
  • How to respond when your son reports stereotyping or misunderstandings at school
  • How to help your son process negative stereotypes
  • The link between fear and implicit bias
  • Connection as a cure for implicit bias and negative stereotypes
  • How to effectively teach self-advocacy skills
  • Why moms of boys might be boys’ best advocates
Links we mentioned (or should have) in this episode:

Stop Assuming Boys Are Bad — BuildingBoys blog post

The Education of Playful Boys: Class Clowns in the Classroom — research study mentioned at about 7:00

Don’t Assume the Worst About BoysU.S News article by Jen

How My Son, and a Pleather Jacket, Schooled Me on Being a 10-Year-Old Boy TodayWashington Post article mentioned at 9:40

The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys — book mentioned by Janet at 15:18

Boys Will Be Boys? How Schools Can Be Guilty of Gender BiasGuardian article