Decoding male communication

Understanding what a boy is saying, even when he isn't talking

During the past ten years, much has been written regarding the education of boys and how they act. "Girl behaviour became the gold standard," according to Raising Cain coauthor Michael Thompson. "Boys are treated like defective girls."


However, the language and emotional attachment boys utilize in different social situations is well worth taking a look at. Research psychologist Leonard Sax argued that schools needed to address the social behaviours of boys and adapt learning environments and teaching practices to their gender specific actions. Boys have a unique language of their own and it will often be misunderstood as malicious, careless, non-serious or at best foolish and indifferent.

Author Jim Stenson put it this way, “Getting to know a boy is like looking at a roughly kept home with an untended garden and a make-shift fence; however, once the door to the home is opened, a beautiful interior can be found.” Having taught at Northmount School, an all-boys elementary school in North York for ten years (and as Vice Principal for two), I can set forth some tangible examples of the gender specific language and reactions of male students, to help further understanding.

Here are some specific situations that arise with boys only:

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

This comment usually occurs once personal or property damage has taken place. The best of intentions has them to disaster. Boys tend to be impulsive and often lack the thought patterns to determine short and long-tem effects and consequences. While boosting their friend to retrieve a stuck basketball was a good idea, the unintended result of a bent pole or ill-conceived safety net has delivered a less than satisfactory ending.

Sir! Johnny is paralysed from the neck down out on the field!

Boys have a tremendous tendency toward injury; some stress avoidance at any cost, others revel in risk, while the majority tend to wear injuries as a badge of courage. Prior to their social parade as heroic pariah, each and every injury is often portrayed by them and their peers as a major code blue trauma. It’s really part of the male mystique and also how much they can shock a supervisory teacher. Every exaggerated comment results in a miraculous recovery. Johnny was up and running is less than two minutes, but he and his peers have had their moment in the sun.

Come quick, Johnny is choking for no reason at all!

Can you spot the exaggeration and the element of truth? Johnny is indeed choking and this must be dealt with first; however, the messenger is covering up something. Boys will be quick to point out an emergency. They will also try to cover any prohibitive behaviour in their initial call for help hoping you might forget the quick admission of guilt. Ninety percent of the time, Johnny has recovered on his own and all that is left to be determined was the reason. In this case spit balls through a pen went in reverse.

Somebody stole my pencil and hid my binder!

There is in every school in our nation a terrible thief, vandal, and bully; his name is ``Somebody.`` They may even be in your home or office. In actual fact their real name is Order, first name Lack Of. Male students are very possessive and proud of the space given to them. However, these parameters, when not enforced lead to a type of Manifest Destiny. The thinking goes like this, ``My desk is in my classroom, I can put my books near my desk, the books near my desk are close to the shelf, I can place my material there too.`` Before long, something has gone missing and the culprit is SOMEBODY!

There not laughing at me, their laughing near me.

No one enjoys being the butt of a joke, but with young men the nuances of this are fascinating. They do not mind being the class clown, and having their peers laugh at them. They also do not mind laughing with the class at themselves. However, boys do not like to be laughed at. Any point of pride or weakness, prelude to a consequence, or result of a (physical or mental) fall will result in upset feelings.

Is everything okay? How about now? Okay how about now?

If you simply stop at the first question nothing will be revealed. After some time passes and the tell-tale quivering upper lip and slightly vibrating chin, the doors of upset will open. Boys will take a much longer time to communicate their emotional pain. This is totally different than with their physical wounds. However, once those doors are open and the waterworks have begun, listen with great empathy and wait until the young man has come up with some of his own solutions. Your contributions will then be receptive, innovative and wise. Boys need trust and time to reveal their emotional pain and DO seek solutions.

Sir, I didn’t do the homework because I didn’t get it.

A good teacher will set their homework policy from day one for male students. I usually say that if an incompletion occurs, come with a note or see me before the homework check takes place, not during. This creates a fine dynamic of honesty and allows for a generally punitive free class, but with all of the responsibility and sound learning intact. The work must still get done. I have a theory that not understanding homework and admitting to it is directly linked to the male adult behaviour of not seeking medical attention until its often too late. Bottom line parents, saying, “I don’t know is the first step to knowledge.”

Associative Thinking

When asked what a leper was by the Priest, (a proud hand was raised) “A leper is a large black cat similar to a puma.”

“Sir, when I die will I really see Satan?”

(Response-Teacher) “Of course you will see all of the saints, even Saint Ann.”
(Pause with trepidation), “Sir Will I really see Satan?
Boys will often use this type of reasoning with oral and written communication as they are goal oriented for a response. They will associate their own knowledge rapidly with what you expect of them. Have them slow down, consider what they are saying, and rather than skim their text or thoughts teach them to devote time to them.

Certainly more examples exist to illustrate male communication patterns and how to understand and modify teaching and parenting practices to them. However raising a young man requires four critical tenants: understanding, patience, parameters and a flexible sense of humour.

As much as education has modified itself for female success over the past twenty years, so too must the pendulum swing back to do justice to male students. Boys communicate for effect, the rapid transfer of ``unedited`` information and to convey emotion through coded speech. Like their female counterparts, they want your attention and your time - two gifts any parent of any means can provide their child. If the opportunity arises again and a young man relays his story to you listen intently then look for the code behind boys’ communication. Then a door to a beautiful interior will surely open.

Manfred von Vulte is V.P. Director of Development at Northmount Private Boys Catholic Elementary School in North York.

Learn more about Northmount.

 

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Upper Canada College


Toronto, Ontario
St Clair Ave W/Avenue Rd
 
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"Located in the heart of Toronto, UCC provides transformational learning experiences in a supportive, caring environment. Our highly sought-after graduates are awarded International Baccalaureate and OSSD diplomas.

  1. High-achieving, all-round students
  2. Challenging but rewarding IB program
  3. First rate academics, athletics and arts
  4. 19 different sports and 80+ clubs

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  • Gr. SK to 12 (Boys)
  • Liberal Arts curriculum; International Baccalaureate
  • $38,600 to $75,200
 
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Upper Canada College 38600 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Boys

Crescent School


Toronto, Ontario
Bayview Avenue/Lawrence Avenue East
 
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"Crescent School is a Toronto independent day school for boys in Grades 3 to 12. Our relational learning environment develops students' characters through academics, arts, athletics, business, outreach and robotics.

  1. Emphasis on leadership and character education
  2. Strong alumni community
  3. Generous financial aid
  4. Enhanced service & mentoring opportunities

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  • Gr. 3 to 12 (Boys)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $41,965
 
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Crescent School 41965 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys

Royal St. George's College


Toronto, Ontario
Bathurst St/Dupont St
 
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"Our vision: Encourage life-long Georgians ready to use their scholarship, compassion, conscience and courage to make a difference. Our mission: To challenge and inspire each boy to become the best version of himself.

  1. 100% university placement
  2. Boy-centric education
  3. Computer Engineering & Entrepreneurship programs
  4. AP Capstone school

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  • Gr. 3 to 12 (Boys)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $37,675
 
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Royal St. George's College 37675 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
Toronto, Ontario
Dufferin Avenue/401 Highway
 
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"The Sterling Hall School understands how boys learn best. Teacher relationships and extensive co-curriculars empower and inspire each boy. Our focus on learning, character and community ensure all boys belong." —From the school

  • Gr. JK to 8 (Boys)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $37,000
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The Sterling Hall School 37000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
Toronto, Ontario
York Mills Road/Don Mills Road
 
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"We value partnership with parents, creating a genuinely warm and friendly community. We raise the academic bar on academic excellence, and expectations of character, helping the boys become the best that they can be." —From the school

  • Gr. JK to 8 (Boys)
  • Liberal Arts curriculum
  • $20,200 to $24,600
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Northmount School 20200 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
Wellandport, Ontario
 
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"Robert Land Academy, established in 1978, is a private military-inspired boarding school (Grades 5-12) that helps boys build self-confidence, achieve academic success, develop values, and realize their potential." —From the school

  • Gr. 5 to 12 (Boys)
  • Traditional curriculum
  • $64,000 to $75,000
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Robert Land Academy 64000 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Boys
Aurora, Ontario
St. John's Sideroad/Yonge Street
 
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"With a tradition dating back to 1899, St. Andrew's remains the single largest all-boys boarding school in Canada. Our 126-acre campus provides our students with an ideal setting for learning and growth." —From the school

  • Gr. 5 to 12 (Boys/Girls)
  • Traditional curriculum
  • $4,100 to $80,800
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St. Andrew's College 4100 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day Day Boys Girls
Toronto, Ontario
Duplex Ave/St Clements Ave
 
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"At SCELS we believe giving children an early education will build a solid foundation to prepare them for their next school setting." —From the school

  • Gr. PS to 2 (Boys/Coed)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $12,000 to $23,000
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St. Clement's Early Learning School 12000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Day Boys Coed
Calgary, Alberta
Crowchild Trail/Flanders Ave. SW
 
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"Clear Water Academy is the only private Catholic school in Alberta. We offer a rigorous academic program from Jr. Kindergarten to Grade 12 for students of all faiths. 100% of our students pursue post-secondary education." —From the school

  • Gr. JK to 12 (Coed/Boys/Girls)
  • Liberal Arts curriculum
  • $15,700 to $17,400
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Clear Water Academy 15700 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Day Day Day Coed Boys Girls
Calgary, Alberta
17th Ave SW/Richmond Road SW
 
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"In addition to academics, our focus on mentorship, hands-on learning in and outside the classroom, and character development, will allow our students to thrive academically and personally as they discover who they are." —From the school

  • Gr. K to 12 (Coed/Girls/Boys)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $14,000 to $16,000
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North Point School 14000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Day Day Coed Girls Boys
Toronto, Ontario
Bathurst St./St. Clair West
 
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"Canada’s only independent, Catholic school for boys in Grades 7-12, taught in the Basilian tradition of forming the mind, body, and soul. Since 1852, we have educated students in goodness, discipline, and knowledge." —From the school

  • Gr. 7 to 12 (Boys)
  • Liberal Arts curriculum
  • $23,250
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St. Michael's College School 23250 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
Oakville, Ontario
 
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"We know boys have different learning styles. Research shows that boys learn differently and socialize in their own distinct ways. We also know through research that boys thrive in an all-boys’ learning environment." —From the school

  • Gr. JK to 8 (Boys)
  • Progressive curriculum
  • $25,935 to $30,660
  • Day school
  • 180 students
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Linbrook School 25935 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
Halifax, Nova Scotia
 
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"With a global network of schools around the world, a rich and proud history, and a strong and unique set of core values, Sacred Heart offers not just an education but an experience that is unparalleled in Nova Scotia." —From the school

  • Gr. JK to 12 (Boys/Girls/Coed)
  • Traditional curriculum
  • $14,370 to $20,130
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Sacred Heart School of Halifax 14370 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Day Day Boys Girls Coed
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