It’s a common stereotype, enforced by anecdotal evidence in classrooms across America: Boys are wild and impulsive, while girls have much more self-control.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In three Asian countries, a new study found, there was no difference in how well little boys and girls regulated their own behavior.
The findings might help boost the performance of boys in American school settings with a focus on on self-regulation, which describes a child’s ability to control his or her impulses, follow directions and stay on a task.
In the US, boys have a harder time with self-control that girls.Yet in several Asian countries there is no difference – both boys and girls can control themselves equally using objective testing.
And this does not seem to be caused by the expectations of teachers because in both America and in Asia, teachers believe that girls are better than boys.
So in different societies, adults state that girls can control their behavior better than boys. But when objective tests are done, it turns out that only one of the countries is right – America.
This suggests that the ability to self-regulate is not determined by sex and that both sexes are equally able to accomplish this. So it is not genetic. It can be controlled by social norms.
Yet, it is not the social norm of teachers that is working here, since the teachers in all the cultures see a difference, even when it does not exist.
What is important is that self-regulation is important for academic achievement. The ability for boys to self-regulate in Asian cultures may be one reason for educational prowess.
Now, this study looked at kids from 3-6 years old, so things could change a lot after several years of schooling – and the pressure of teacher’s expectations.
But for young kids, it looks like there are other social constraints that determine the ability to regulate. I’d suggest the parents, not too surprisingly. It will be interesting to find out if the ability for boys to control themselves is also present at older ages.