There is a bizarre absence of fully realised human beings in our boys’ fictional worlds.
Our girls will likely have read or watched hundreds of stories framed around people, their friendships, relationships and emotions, their internal dramas and the competing emotional needs of others.
But, as a mother of boys, this people-driven story feels oddly alien. As toddlers they were quickly funneled into a vehicle-only narrative reality where human dilemmas may be explored through the emotional lives of fire engines, bulldozers and the occasional stegosaurus.
As they aged out of digger demographic, they transitioned seamlessly into one dominated by battles, fighting, heroes, villains and mainly ‘saving the day’.
This narrative world contains almost no emotional complexity, negotiating, nurturing of friendships or internal conflict i.e. none of the mess of being a real human in constant relationship with other humans.
This lack of positive people-focused stories for boys has consequences both for them and for girls. In the narratives they consume, as well as the broader cultural landscape in which they operate, girls get a huge head start on relational skills, in the day-to-day thorniness and complexity of emotional life.
Probably, because of this difference in socialisation, boys score lower than girls of the same age on virtually all measures of empathy and social skills, a gap that grows throughout childhood and adolescence.
The impact on boys mental health is also likely to be significant; from a young age girls’ friendships tend to be more intimate, deeper and more emotional focussed, providing a support structure which is often lacking for boys.
The stories we tell become our emotional blueprints; what we come to expect of ourselves and others and how we engage with our lives; in the vast majority of situations we are likely to encounter in the course of a lifetime, there is no hero or villain.
Understanding how to navigate that with grace and skill is the beating heart of human connection.
Wendy Fidler, MEfA Montessori School, Forest School and Well-being Garden