Norms and Expectation (Solutions 7 & 8)

26 Oct

Whether it’s in school, the workplace, within the community as a whole or at home in a marriage, the world is coed, and boys and girls would benefit from strengthening their skills to work and communicate together. But because boys and girls socialize each other in such different ways, we face a challenge in enhancing these skills. We must figure out ways to bring them together and confront the norms they have come to accept. Which brings me to today’s solutions (yep – it’s a combo again. It may be a cop out, but it really was difficult to separate the two)….Solution 7: Normalize the Boy-Girl Friendship and Solution 8: Communicate Expectations. 

What do our kids think about friendships between boys and girls? Do they view these relationships in the same way they do those between their same-sex friends?

The following are just a few thoughts shared by a group of fifth grade boys and girls who participated in a focus group aimed at tapping into their feeling about one another: 

 “Girls just think differently.”
 “Boys don’t like your ideas because they don’t like you.”
“One of my problems is if I am in a group with a girl they would say you’re stupid or dumb.”
“Boys sometime imitate or exclude you, which makes it annoying or difficult to hang out with them.”  
 “I just don’t feel comfortable when working with a girl.” 
 “Sometimes it can be impossible being friends with a guy without your friends thinking you love each other.” 

I’m sure those responses came as no surprise…Boys and girls see each other as “different.” They feel uncomfortable and worry they will be treated badly. As adults, we need to set the expectation that teasing and exclusion are never okay. We need to impart the message that they are a lot more alike than different. We also are in a position to communicate the expectation that boys and girls can and should be friends.

In order to help kids see male-female friendship relationships as “normal,” we must first believe it is ourselves. When we make comments about our kids “getting married,” or “having crushes,” we set our boys and girls up for failed friendships. We need to pay attention to our words and the attitudes we are conveying.

We can further help to normalize friendships between boys and girls by providing positive models. Images hanging on the walls of a classroom, characters on popular television shows in addition to real life examples of male-female relationships all influence kids’ views. As adults, we can be mindful of the images we put before kids. One great way to provide positive models is through children’s literature. Last summer I put together a list of books that portrayed girls and boys in healthy, balanced, non-romantic relationships. These books are not extremely prevalent, but they do exist (follow the above link to view the list).

When kids see, read about, or experience boy/girl friendships for themselves,  it becomes more “normal.” When we share the attitude that it is normal, and reinforce girls and boys interacting in positive  ways, we can improve the chances of it continuing.

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