This article was originally published in the spring 2013 Harker Quarterly.
Author and Santa Clara University psychology professor Jerrold Shapiro was a guest of the Harker Speaker Series on March 7, to give a presentation titled “What Boys Need.” A family psychologist of more than 40 years, Shapiro has made a name for himself with books such as “The Measure of a Man” and “Becoming a Father,” as well as appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and The Morning Show on CBS.
After taking a couple of questions from the crowd, Shapiro began the presentation, which described the ways in which boys experience difficulty growing up in comparison to girls, who he argued have received more attention during their developmental years than boys have in recent decades.
Among the data he showed were statistics showing that boys are now twice as likely to be diagnosed with learning disorders, are lagging behind girls in standardized testing and now make up less than 40 percent of the student body.
He then showed how differently boys and girls mature and communicate. Boys’ brains, he said, exhibit “kinetic, disorganized, maddening and sometimes brilliant behaviors that likely are hard-wired.” Five-year-old girls may be more articulate, while boys have better hand-eye coordination. Unsurprisingly, boys are also more given to impulse.
Once they hit middle school, boys find that girls are maturing at a much faster rate, and boys begin to fear that they appear weak. Interestingly, MRIs have shown that girls’ brains at these ages resemble adult brains more closely than those of boys.
Shapiro proposed a number of solutions to address the challenges of raising boys, including more parental involvement in their school lives and increasing the amount of time they spend with their fathers. The latter was of particular importance, Shapiro argued, because boys who are raised by actively involved fathers exhibit more self-control and self-esteem, are better at regulating their emotions and are more empathetic.