May boys make girls cry

Tough Boys - Tender Girls?

Tim Rohrmann

Boys are often quite wild, while girls are over-cautious. Typical gender differences that affect physical and mental health can be observed in children from an early age. This should be taken into account in health promotion.

The second graders always play "boys for girls - girls for boys" during recess. Some boys in particular are a bit rough. Miriam and Petra do not fight back, but come crying to the teacher and complain about the bullies. How would this story work if the girl and boy names were reversed? Of course there are also girls who are tough and boys who cry at every little thing. Nevertheless, when it comes to health, illness and dealing with one's own body, typical gender differences can already be observed in kindergarten.

Boys live riskier

In addition to physical illnesses and psychological impairments, it is mainly accidents and health-risk behavior that adversely affect the health of children and adolescents. Accidents are among the main causes of deaths in children and adolescents. After respiratory diseases, they are the second most common reason why parents and their child see a doctor. Road traffic accidents are particularly common. Boys are three to four times more likely to be affected. They also injure themselves far more often than girls. An examination of the psychological background reveals two groups of children who have had an accident. The ones, where the boys predominated, appear extroverted, lively, willing to take risks, sometimes also distractible and excitable. For the others with a higher proportion of girls, the focus was on anxiety, inner restlessness and sensitivity. Although these children are less exposed to danger, they are less able to cope with dangerous situations.

Today the well-known teething problems affect the physical health of adolescents less. Because better diagnostic options mean that disabilities and diseases can be recognized and treated earlier. In contrast, the number of overweight children has risen dramatically. Some get "old age diseases" like diabetes in childhood. In recent years, allergies such as hay fever, asthma and neurodermatitis have also increased significantly. Boys are more unstable than girls, at least until they are young. They suffer from illnesses and disabilities more often and receive early intervention more often. The death rate is also higher for boys in all age groups.

More complaints among girls in puberty

There are also clear gender differences in psychological and psychosomatic complaints. While internalizing (inwardly directed) behaviors predominate in girls, for example eating disorders, boys more externalizing (outwardly directed) behaviors such as aggressiveness. Up to puberty, boys suffer from psychological and psychosomatic impairments to a greater extent than girls. They are more often experienced as "problem children" in kindergarten and elementary school, often due to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior. As a result, psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin are prescribed to a far greater extent. During puberty, the trend is reversed: female adolescents complain more often about symptoms and malaise than male adolescents, go to the doctor more often and are prescribed more medication. The list of symptoms is headed by headache, nervousness, restlessness and difficulty concentrating. In addition, eating disorders are more common in girls, but these are also increasingly observed in male adolescents.

After all, there are big differences in health-related behavior. Addictive substances are now tried almost equally by boys and girls. The "harder" the consumer behavior, i.e. the more people drank and smoked, the higher the proportion of boys. Three times as many boys as girls are addicted to alcohol. Behaviors such as dangerous tests of courage or risky driving behavior also lead to accidents more often in boys.

The typical gender differences can in part be explained by genetic factors. Certain hereditary diseases are linked to the male Y chromosome. Some physical complaints in adolescent girls are due to hormonal changes. In general, however, psychological and social interrelationships are more decisive for health, as identifying a preschool boy is more difficult than it is for girls. During this time they have to cope with the fact that they can never be like the loved ones with whom they usually spend most of the day: the mother and other women. In the search for a clear male orientation, boys distance themselves from everything that is "feminine" - and thus sometimes also from health-conscious behavior.

The ideal of beauty is contrary to health

Puberty is a decisive turning point for girls. Some have their first bleeding when they are nine years old. This particular experience is actually a chance to get to know your body anew. Instead, it is widely viewed today as an impurity and a problem. Ideals of beauty are still an obstacle on the way to health and wellbeing. It is precisely here that there are typical gender differences in the body image of young people. Female adolescents are more dissatisfied with their physical appearance and more attentive to internal processes. A recent study shows that girls 'dissatisfaction increases over the years, while boys' dissatisfaction decreases. It has to do with biological aspects. Because the natural increase in weight and the physical curves lead to the fact that the body does not correspond to the female ideal of slimness in girls. In boys it is the other way round, because the adolescent muscle growth makes them look more "masculine".

Some things that appear harmful or unreasonable to us adults - unhealthy - definitely make sense from the perspective of girls and boys. With behavior that poses a health risk, they experience the possibilities and limits of their bodies, deal with social demands and present themselves as girls and boys. Health promotion therefore does not simply mean teaching children and young people "correct" behavior. Instead, they have to take their needs and perspectives seriously and also address the issues behind problematic behavior.

Little girls and boys usually know very well what their body needs. However, there are many social influences that tend to have a negative impact on this ability:

  • Sweets, snacks, and prepared meals so full of sugar, salt, and additives that they no longer deserve to be labeled "food";
  • Televisions or computer games that prevent children from moving;
  • the rapid treatment of behavioral problems with psychotropic drugs;
  • Ideal ideas of body, beauty and health, which usually do not correspond to normal physical conditions.

There are therefore many reasons to start gender-conscious health promotion as early as possible. Even if "the" boy and "the" girl do not exist.

Body perception strengths

Children start to portray themselves as girls or boys at an early age. This can be fun, but it can also lead to self-devaluation if one's own body does not correspond to the ideals. There are still too many girls who struggle with diets because they find themselves too fat. Many boys, on the other hand, overestimate their physical capabilities to meet the image of the strong man. Instead, positive body experiences are helpful, in which girls and boys experience that their bodies are perfectly fine.

What is a wimp?
Sex education has to start in kindergarten, because love and sexuality are extremely exciting for girls and boys of this age. If the topics of love and sexuality are addressed early on, there is a good chance that girls and boys will develop a positive relationship with them.

Indian heart knows no pain
Even today, the phrase "a boy doesn't cry" is still used occasionally. Many boys clench their teeth and fail to learn to perceive pain as an important signal from their body. Girls experience a more humane and more conscious way of dealing with their bodies. However, this can also be a disadvantage if it is viewed as less resilient as a result.

Neither cocky nor over-anxious
Girls tend to be overly cautious and not encouraged enough to test their limits. Boys are more likely to find themselves in dangerous situations because they don't want to be cowards. It is important for both sexes to learn that fear is an important signal that should be taken seriously, but not entirely discouraged from engaging in exciting activities.

Romping around and fighting is fun!
Some girls do not dare to use their physical capabilities at all. Boys, on the other hand, are sometimes very inconsiderate with themselves and others in scuffles. Boys in particular, who are involved in a lot of arguments, often have poor body awareness and cannot assess the consequences of injuries to themselves or to others. It is good for both boys and girls to test their powers in wild games. Clear rules, relaxation and careful handling of injuries are naturally part of this.

Health promotion in childhood must first and foremost strengthen self-esteem and promote body awareness. It is important to respond to the needs of girls and boys - but also to set clear boundaries. Last but not least, as adult men and women, we should treat our bodies well and do something for our well-being. Then boys and girls experience how it works. If we feel comfortable in our own skin, we can also better deal with the challenges and conflicts that everyday life with children brings with it.

Source: Rohrmann, T .: UGB-Forum 2/03, pp. 62-65