Once I saw a great illustration of the difference between men and women. It was grossly simplistic, of course, but like all great illustrations, it captured the core of so many things in a single image. Actually, there were two images. The first image was of a rectangular box. It was completely covered in dials, knobs, levers, and latches. The heading on the image was “Woman.” The second image was of the same rectangular box — but with only a single on/off switch in the middle. The heading on the image was “Man.” I remember laughing out loud when I saw it because, on so many levels, i found it to be true. It encapsulated a fundamental difference between girls and boys:
Teenage girls want to know why. They are emotional, verbal, multitasking, abstract thinkers. The “why” of things is often complex, detailed, and circuitous — well-suited to a female brain with the number and speed of its neural connections.
Teenage boys want to know how. They are concrete, compartmentalized, reactive, and in-the-moment thinkers. The “how” of things is often physical, kinetic, and spatial — well-suited to a male brain with its ability to focus and capacity for risk.
You will remember that I talked about the strange time in my youth when the culture promoted the concept that there were, basically, no differences between male and female, outside of the plumbing. Again, thankfully, that didn’t last long, but it was replaced by an equally pernicious and destructive concept — that there were, indeed, differences between boys and girls…and girls were better. It’s not my goal here to re-argue this concept or go into all of the cultural reasons why it became prevalent. Instead, I mention it because it continues to echo in the cultural consciousness.
Are there differences between girls and boys? Yes. Is one superior to the other? No. Difference does not equate to hierarchy. Frankly, all of this current brain imaging research not only fascinates me but also indicates what I’ve experienced over my career as a therapist. Men and women are different: They see things from different angles; their reactions and responses to the same things are sometimes radically different; and each one is empowered and enhanced by understanding and appreciating the point of view of others.
If you have both a teenage boy and a teenage girl, don’t expect them to act identically. and even when they act the same, don’t expect their motivations or impulses or reasons those identical actions to be the same. Your teenage boy is different from your teenage girl. He is going to act, react, think, and feel differently. And that’s perfectly normal. Teenage girls grow up to be women; teenage boys grow up to be men. Different — so why shouldn’t the process by which they get there be different?
The above is excerpted from Chapter 5 of my new book, The Stranger in Your House. I’ll be posting more excerpts from it here in the weeks to come, but you can receive a FREE copy of the book itself between now and December 15, 2011. To participate in this book giveaway, simply share some of your own thoughts or experiences about raising teenagers – in the comments section of this or future blog posts about the book.