Typical stereotypes of teenage boys do not include extreme verbal proficiency, but a new study shows that despite the common conception that girls are better communicators, boys may actually be better at expressing themselves, both in school and during social situations. In a survey of 6,000 eight to 16-year-olds, the British Communication Trust and National Literacy Trust found that “69% of boys said they were ‘very confident’ or ‘confident’ speaking in front of classmates, compared with 57% of girls.”
The other findings are pretty disturbing. According to the BBC,
“More boys than girls also said they felt confident “saying no to friends” (70% to 62%), “talking to new people” (67% to 62%), “explaining your point of view” (78% to 74%), “asking when you don’t understand something” (75% to 69%) and “talking with teachers (81% to 78%). The only areas where more girls felt more confident were “talking to people online” (85% to 82%) and “listening to other people’s opinions” (93% to 89%).”
It’s good that, as the National Literacy Trust pointed out, stereotypes of inarticulate, mumbling teenage boys seem to be outdated. As the director said, it’s “heartening to see a new voice-conscious generation of boys emerging.” But while the gender disparities aren’t enormous, their presence is alarming. The fact that girls aren’t as comfortable speaking in front of classmates, articulating their thoughts, and asking when they don’t understand, points to the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, where women defer to authority without learning (or feeling that it’s acceptable) to speak up on their own behalf.
The study authors conducted the survey in an attempt to see whether youth need better communication training, as communication skills become more and more crucial professional skills. And they’re certainly right that parents and educators need to work with girls to build their confidence, “particularly in situations that are more formal than the everyday conversations that are within their comfort zone.” This also means providing girls with role models from a young age, and making schools a place where female leadership can thrive.
Photo from Flickr.