Parents should do the opposite when they hear: “Don’t worry, he’ll be fine.”
- Parents may attribute their child’s mental health symptoms to phases of adolescence.
- Society often holds rigid gender stereotypes that expect boys to be tough.
- We dismiss boys’ actions that don’t fit the narrow definition of what it means to be a “real man.”
Here are a few phrases that I have heard from parents and professionals to excuse atypical behaviors of boys:
- “Boys will be boys.”
- “Give him more time.”
- “All boys do this.”
- “Boys are supposed to be rough.”
- “He is too young.”
That’s Just How Boys Are
No, it is not, which is my response when discussing the atypical behaviors seen in boys. While behaviors in boys vary depending upon the child, some atypical patterns of behavior negatively impact their social-emotional, language and communication, cognitive, and motor and physical development.
When these behaviors go unaddressed, boys may become more emboldened or continue with actions that disrupt their relationships or environments. This potentially enables negative behavior both in the short term and long term and can cause several consequences, including perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes, discouraging accountability, and hindering personal development.
When a boy’s maladaptive behaviors are merely excused, they may not learn the consequences of their actions. This lack of consequences can hinder their ability to take responsibility for their choices as they grow older.
Parents frequently share with me that when reporting their concerns about their boys’ abnormal behaviors, they were dismissed by professionals and told, “That’s just how boys are.” Parents feel helpless when this happens, yet they also start to accept that the behaviors they believed were odd were considered normal.
I am diagnosing many older children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because their deficits in social communication, social interaction, and restricted and repetitive behaviors were dismissed by other professionals. These parents first reported symptoms when their boys were toddlers.
Ignoring Boy’s Behaviors
On the other hand, some parents excuse atypical behaviors in their boys, often referring to those behaviors as “boys will be boys” for various purposes. What is considered “normal” behavior for boys from parents varies depending on individual personalities, cultural and societal expectations, personal beliefs, and historical factors.
However, here are the most common reasons that I have found about why parents equate “boy behavior” as “normal” based on my experiences:
- Fear of Diagnosis: Some parents may worry that a mental health diagnosis will label their child or negatively impact their future.
- Misunderstanding: Parents may attribute their child’s mental health symptoms to phases of adolescence, moodiness, or typical teenage behavior.
- Stigma: There is still a significant stigma around mental health issues in many societies.
- Socialization: From an early age, children are socialized to conform to societal norms.
- Gender Stereotypes: Society often holds rigid gender stereotypes that expect boys to be tough, independent, and unemotional.
- Misconceptions about Masculinity: Some people mistakenly associate traditional masculinity with the suppression of certain emotions or behaviors, leading to the dismissal of boys’ actions that don’t fit this narrow definition of what it means to be a “real man.”
Boys Need Help Too
Boys do need help and support, just like individuals of any gender. It is crucial to recognize that boys can face various challenges and difficulties throughout their lives, including issues related to mental health, education, relationships, and personal development.
Promoting awareness, understanding, and support for boys is an important part of creating a more equitable and compassionate society.
When parents express their concerns about unusual behaviors in their boys, take them seriously. It is just as essential to stop the “gender bias” and “gender stereotyping” that are often used to excuse the negative behaviors of boys.
Ignoring negative behaviors in boys causes several problems: Behaviors escalate, it negatively impacts their social relationships, and it can cause academic problems. Instead of overlooking atypical behaviors in boys, do this:
- Identify and address problematic behavior early and constructively.
- Be honest about your child’s behaviors.
- Create clear expectations and boundaries, and use positive discipline strategies.
- Reduce the stigma surrounding seeking help.
- Create an environment that encourages them to communicate their thoughts and feelings.
- Observe behaviors and note when and where they occur. Collect information to help you better understand the context and triggers.
To gather your data based on your observations, use the journal I created for parents called It’s About Time! For A Parenting Journal. It is an easy way to keep track of your son’s behavioral history. Bring this documentation with you to share with professionals involved with his care.
In addition, to stop thinking that boys do not need help, take several steps to challenge and change your perspective:
- Challenge Your Beliefs: Reflect on your biases regarding gender and help-seeking behavior. Be open to changing your perspective as you learn more.
- Educate Yourself: Begin by learning about the challenges and issues that boys and men may face in various aspects of life, including mental health, education, relationships, and societal expectations.
- Promote Gender Equality: Support and advocate for gender equality and equal opportunities for all individuals, regardless of gender.
- Advocate for Mental Health Awareness: Promote mental health awareness and reduce stigma.
- Listen and Learn: Engage in conversations with boys and men in your life. Listen to their experiences, feelings, and concerns.
Remember that recognizing and addressing the needs of boys ensures that they receive the support and resources needed to thrive and lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Encouraging open dialogue, providing access to mental health services, and challenging traditional gender stereotypes can go a long way in ensuring that atypical behavior is addressed early so they can thrive and reach their full potential.
- Bachelor of Arts, Psychology
- Master of Science, Psychology, Major – School
- Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Clinical Psychology, Child & Adolescent
- I have over 25 years of experience in the field of psychology. To create this blog and share it publicly was not an easy decision. However, it has been three years since I started this blog, and I still have a lot more to discuss about my experiences and “psychology secrets.”
Her website: Dr. Lisa Liggins-Chambers