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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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