Boys who are “mollycoddled” as babies and toddlers are more likely to grow into men who will be more successful at work and in their relationships than babies who are taught to be tough.
Dr Sebastian Kraemer, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Whittington Hospital, London, told delegates at the annual conference that if boys are treated in a gentler fashion, it has a permanent positive impact on the developing brain.
“You hardwire in self-confidence that is not based on bluster, a self-confidence that is genuine and doesn’t need to be constantly asserted. In other words, you will have a more confident but less aggressive adult male.”
In a talk entitled ‘The Fragile Male’, Dr Kraemer said that if boys were treated like girls as babies they would become better at self-control. “Boys would act more like girls, not in a more feminine way, but more like a girl in that they would be able to hold themselves together. Boys would be less prone to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and would perform better at school. So don’t toughen up baby boys. It will not make them tough. Boys are more fragile and need to be picked up.”
Right from the start, males are more vulnerable, said Dr Kraemer. When a woman was under stress, either individually or during a war or natural disaster, more girls were conceived. Research has shown that male foetuses are more likely to die in the womb and, once born, are three weeks behind in their development than girls. “More males are lost or damaged in the womb than girls – everything that can go wrong in obstetrics goes wrong to boys,” said Dr Kraemer.
Boys are twice as likely as girls to suffer from reading difficulties, autism and Asperger’s syndrome and to show disruptive behaviour. Boys were more psychologically vulnerable to their parents divorcing or their mother suffering from post natal depression. In adolescence, more girls than boys self-harm and have eating disorders, but boys are more violent, with four out of five crimes being committed by men.
Boys are encouraged to keep the lid tightly screwed down on emotions and develop hardness, sporting prowess and coolness. This results in poor examinations grades (52 per cent A-C GCSE grades for boys, compared to 61 per cent for girls). Even female chimps are better at cracking nuts than male chimps, and make better termite traps.
The ‘ideal’ male, said Dr Kraemer, was epitomised by Clint Eastwood in his role in High Plains Drifter, a lonely cowboy with “no name, no relationships, no manners – and probably useless as a father”. Even the funniest men often have their fair share of troubles and cover this under a veneer of humour – Paul Merton has bipolar disorder and Billy Connolly was abused as a child.
Men are more single minded, said Dr Kraemer, and this “spotlight” mind makes them better at maths and chess, However, they often deal with emotional problems through addictions – to work, sex, alcohol, drugs and crime.
“There is no point in trying to toughen up baby boys – it’ll only make them weak, at Dr Kraemer concluded. “If you look at a baby it’s so obvious that they are genderless. We should ask parents not to be caught in these gender traps.”