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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.


Find Private Schools:

In the spotlight:

List of all-boys schools


Toronto, Ontario — Located in the heart of Toronto, Upper Canada College is the oldest independent boys' school in Ontario. Our IB graduates are highly regarded by top universities and post-secondary institutions worldwide. View School Profile.

  • High-achieving, all-round boys
  • Challenging but rewarding IB program
  • First rate academics, athletics and arts
  • 19 different sports and 65+ clubs
  • Boutique urban boarding program
SK to 12 (Boys)
Liberal Arts, International Baccalaureate
$35,000 to $68,450
Avg. Class:
20 to 25
Upper Canada College 35000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boarding Boys

Toronto, Ontario — 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. View School Profile.

  • 100% university placement
  • Boy-centric education
  • Computer Engineering & Entrepreneurship programs
  • AP Capstone school
  • Extensive athletic program
3 to 12 (Boys)
Avg. Class:
Royal St. George's College 34500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys

Toronto, Ontario — 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. View School Profile.

  • Emphasis on leadership and character education
  • Strong alumni community
  • Generous financial aid
  • Enhanced service & mentoring opportunities
  • World champion robotics team and technology courses
3 to 12 (Boys)
Avg. Class:
15 to 20
Crescent School 36090 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Toronto, Ontario
    York Mills Road/Don Mills Road
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • $19,000 to $36,000

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.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Northmount School 19000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Dufferin Avenue/401 Highway
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • $31,200

The Sterling Hall School is a leading independent school for boys, JK to Grade 8. We understand how boys learn best and we support each boy in his learning journey.

  • Day
  • Progressive
The Sterling Hall School 31200 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
  • Wellandport, Ontario
  • 5 to 12 Boys
  • $58,300 to $62,300

Robert Land Academy, established in 1978, is a private military-inspired boarding school (Gr 5-12) helping boys to experience validation, realize their potential and gain admission to post-secondary programs.

  • Boarding
  • Traditional
Robert Land Academy 58300 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Boys
  • Westmount, Quebec
  • K to 11 Boys
  • $20,850 to $26,990

Selwyn House School provides a well-rounded education of exceptional depth and scope for boys from Kindergarten to Grade 11. It is located in Westmount, Quebec.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Selwyn House School 20850 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Aurora, Ontario
    St. John's Sideroad/Yonge Street
  • 5 to 12 Boys
  • $38,405 to $71,495

St. Andrew's College offers programs from grades 5 to 12 in Aurora. Its average class size is 17 students.

  • Boarding/Day
  • Traditional
St. Andrew's College 38405 MiddleSchools HighSchools Boarding Day Boys
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Duplex Ave/St Clements Ave
  • PS to 2 Boys/Coed
  • $10,000 to $21,075

St. Clement's Early Learning School 70 St. Clements Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4R 1H2 At SCELS we believe giving children an early education will build a solid foundation to prepare them for their next school setting.

  • Day
  • Progressive
St. Clement's Early Learning School 10000 Preschool Kindergarten Elementary Day Day Boys Coed
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Shuter Street/Bond Street
  • 3 to 12 Boys
  • $7,500

St. Michael’s Choir School was founded in 1937 and provides sacred music for services at St. Michael's Cathedral Basilica. Located in downtown Toronto, SMCS is an all boys school from grades 3 through 12.

  • Day
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St. Michael's Choir School 7500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Montreal, Quebec
  • 7 to 11 Boys
  • $9,950

In the Ignatian spirit of care and concern for the individual, Loyola strives to develop a diverse and unique student experience while forming global-minded Men for Others.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
Loyola High School 9950 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Oakville, Ontario
  • JK to 8 Boys
  • $23,550 to $27,800

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.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Linbrook School 23550 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools Day Boys
  • Harrow, Ontario
    Concessions Rd 6 S/Hwy 18
  • 1 to 8 Boys
  • $8,500 to $29,000

St. Peter's ACHS College School in Amherstburg, Ont. is a day/residency school for boys grades 1-8 who love Sports and the Outdoors. Tuition starts at $8,900. and is a member of OFIS. We put "FUN" back into learning.

  • Boarding/Day
  • Traditional
  • Montessori
St. Peter's ACHS College School 8500 Elementary MiddleSchools Boarding Day Boys
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • JK to 12 Coed/Girls/Boys
  • $13,290 to $18,620

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.

  • Day
  • Traditional
Sacred Heart School of Halifax 13290 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Day Day Coed Girls Boys
  • Calgary, Alberta
    17th Ave SW/Richmond Road SW
  • K to 11 Boys
  • $13,000 to $15,000

North Point School for Boys is a Kindergarten to Grade 11 independent school in which curious and energetic boys are challenged and motivated, developing into young men of integrity with a genuine love of learning.

  • Day
  • Progressive
North Point School For Boys 13000 Kindergarten Elementary MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys
  • Toronto, Ontario
    Bathurst St./St. Clair West
  • 7 to 12 Boys
  • $21,500

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.

  • Day
  • Liberal Arts
St. Michael's College School 21500 MiddleSchools HighSchools Day Boys

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