Do boys and girls really deal with people in very different ways? Yes, say researchers like Campbell Leaper of the University of California.
With Leaper's help, we conducted a test that he said would show us the difference. We made some lemonade, but instead of putting in sugar, we deviously put in salt — lots of it.
The different answers that the boys and girls gave us when we asked them if they liked the lemonade spoke volumes.
Being Polite vs. Being Honest
"So how's the lemonade?" I asked Aaron and Jacob. Aaron said, "Eech!" They both said it tasted bad.
Raja told me, "It needs some sugar." Hunter said, "It tastes terrible."
The boys responded the way I would if someone gave me something foul.
The boys' reacted just as Leaper expected they would, because, he said, "Boys are allowed to talk back to their parents more than girls are, to assert their will more."
Would girls react differently? I didn't think they would, but was I ever wrong.
Courteously, Morgan said, "It's good."
Again and again, the girls politely drank, even a girl who looked as if she was choking it down.
Only when I pushed them, did they tell the truth.
I asked one girl, Samantha, why she didn't tell me the lemonade tasted bad. She said, "I didn't want to be rude to you."
"I just didn't want to make anyone feel bad that they made this so sour," Asha told me.
Most boys didn't worry about that.
We tried another test, offering the kids brightly wrapped gifts. Again, following Leaper's advice, we filled each box with a disappointing gift: socks and a pencil.
Once again, the girls were polite.
Samantha said her gift was good. Another little girl, Courtney, was even more enthusiastic, saying, "Just what I needed. Socks and a pencil!"
I must say, the girls have a skill I lack; anyone who gives them a gift is going to feel good about it.
The boys weren't about to make me feel good. "What?" Raja said, "socks and a pencil? Rip-off!" Jacob had a similar reaction.
"This is one of those situations where the boys probably should be behaving more like the girls," said Susan Witt, who teaches childhood development at the University of Akron. She says boys and girls respond differently in situations like these because we parent them differently.
These differences came out when we asked the kids to describe themselves.
The girls described themselves as "nice," while the boys described themselves as "talented," "smart," "good at math," "funny." The boys rarely said "nice."
Both funny and nice are good. But often girls are too eager to be nice, says Witt, and boys too direct.
Is It Social or Biological?
So, can parents really change this? Maybe boys and girls are simply born different. "We're born differently," said Witt, "boys are XYs and girls are XXs. But, by and large, John it is primarily socialization and I believe that right down to my socks!"
By socialization, Witt means parents and society treat kids differently. And there is evidence of that. A famous study called "Baby X" designed by Phyllis Katz tested adults on how we treat babies based on what we think the sex is.
"We said this is Johnny. Just play with Johnny any way that you'd like. Or this is Jane. Just play with Jane anyway that you'd like," Katz said.
It was always the same baby. But when adults thought they were holding Jane, they held her gently, gave her dolls. When they thought the baby was Johnny, they offered him a football.