Boys may be more sensitive than girls

December 21, 2000

The fragile male

From the beginning of life, males are more vulnerable than females, and our social and cultural attitudes about the resilience of boys amplifies this inborn disadvantage. Reporting in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Sebastian Kraemer, suggests that if parents were more aware of male sensitivity, they might change the way they treat their sons.

Before birth, the male fetus is at greater risk of death or damage, and by the time a boy is born he is on average 4-6 weeks less developed than his sister. Boys generally have more physical and psychological developmental problems and require more attention. They are more vulnerable to poor parental care, and tend to take greater risks. At school, girls are better than boys at most academic subjects, and later in life the process continues unabated. Circulatory disorders, diabetes, alcoholism and lung cancer are all commoner in men and male suicide rates continue to exceed those in females. Men are more able to ignore symptoms, which can delay medical treatment. Women even survive men by several years in almost all countries, and the gap is widening.

This report has implications for the upbringing of boys, says the author. The more developmental problems there are, the more sensitive care is required. Yet difficult babies often receive less good care, precisely because they are more difficult to look after. If parents were more aware of male sensitivity, they might change the way they treat their sons. The traditional attitude that "boys will be boys" needs exploring further, he concludes.

Sebastian Kraemer, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, London, UK


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