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Raising Boys

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Active or Aggressive Boys?


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video preview imageLearn how aggressive behavior peaks at age two.

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Born Active?

Born Active?

"Why are some young boys more aggressive than girls? We don't know for sure. We think that boys are predisposed to higher activity levels as a result of androgens (male hormones) inutero. However, it is not, as many people believe, a result of testosterone in the blood, because before puberty, boys and girls have the same level. What we know is that boys in all cultures around the world wrestle more, mock fight more, and are drawn to themes of power and domination, but that's not the same as hurting someone, so it's not necessarily a cause for worry."

Michael Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-Author, Raising Cain; Host, PBS documentary, RAISING CAIN

CRASH! Boom! BAM!!! "You're dead!"

In their fantasy play, boys turn sticks into guns, balloons into bombs, and pencils into swords. They kill, die and get reborn in a matter of seconds, then hop right up to play some more. And yet many parents worry, wondering if their sons are simply normal, active boys, or turning into potentially violent men.

"Mothers are always saying to me, 'Why is my son racing around, not talking, and not listening? Why is he obsessed with playing war and shooting? What's happened to my sweet, vulnerable little boy who used to cuddle with me?'" says Michael Thompson, Ph.D. host of the documentary RAISING CAIN and co-author of the book of the same name. "This is a valid question, because no one wants their son to grow up to be violent. But interpreting play as an early indicator of violence is a misunderstanding both of the nature of boy activity and the real journey to violence that some boys undergo."

"Anyone who spends a lot of time with boys soon sees that most boys are indeed more active than most girls. A recent Harvard University study states that, "By school age, the average boy in a classroom is more active than the girls — even the most active girls don't seem to express their energy in the unrestrained way characteristic of most boys." While these findings support a stereotype some in our society have worked to eradicate, ask a kindergarten teacher and you'll likely hear that this description is true. "I've been teaching young boys for over 25 years and I don't see that their activity levels have changed, but our expectations for how long they have to sit still have dramatically increased," says teacher Jane Katch, author of Under Deadman's Skin: Discovering the Meaning of Children's Violent Play. "And that's a problem for a lot of boys. Some boys in my class need to move a lot. I call them 'high energy boys.' These boys simply can't sit still as long as most of the girls. They don't have the fine motor skills girls do, so many will make big constructions like block towers, while girls will work on smaller, more delicate pictures."

Experts say that you should try not to compare your boy to other boys and keep in mind that there are many different kinds of boys. They range from the highly physical and highly competitive at one end, to the very peaceful quiet boy, who prefers to read. "Not all boys want to compete in sports, wrestle, and shoot guns. It's important to remember that there are quiet boys and studious and bookish boys as well, and this is perfectly normal," adds Thompson.

Understanding Boy Aggression

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