A study from Australia indicates that boys who suffer from abuse are less resilient than girls. If these findings hold true in the United States, then those of us who parent children with trauma need to pay particular attention to the boys in our care. Our culture tends to treat boys as defective girls, and we need to resist that tendency to force boys into a mold that doesn’t fit them.
The Australian study was very broad, starting with a sample of more than 620,000 children born in South Australia between 1986 and 2017. They cross-referenced that group with the Australian Early Development Census, a national survey of children’s school readiness (ages 5-6) carried out every three years, and Child Protection Services records. They then measured resilience using a subset of scores from the AEDC. The study found that all of the children with strong indications of abuse scored lower on school readiness and resilience factors than other children. Boys, however, showed markedly less resilience than similarly-situated girls, and the differences were more stark for higher levels of abuse.
The study wasn’t able to delve into the reasons for the differences, but it noted studies throughout industrialized nations showing that boys have more difficulties than girls in school settings. I’ve had that experience with my own children — schools reward quiet, cooperative children, and it’s hard for boys to fit into that box. As the study’s authors noted, “It is especially vital to attend to the needs of our distressed young boys, who are likely to be labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’, recognising their struggle in the face of adversity.”
The good news from the study is that there are things we can do to increase resilience. As other research has shown, having a good relationship with an adult is an important protective factor. One surprise from this study was a strong correlation between resilience and reading to children in the home. Again, the study doesn’t explain why this correlation exists, but reading to our younger children certainly is something that we can do without too much extra work. Helping our boys find books that appeal to them also can help strengthen our relationships.
Parenting children with trauma is challenging, and we need to keep sight of the particular challenges that boys face. Even the small things that we do can help them develop the resilience that they need to face life.