Education

Psychologist: Boys Need Close Friendships

By Liana Loewus — March 19, 2011 2 min read

Live from the Celebration of Teaching and Learning Conference in New York

This morning, developmental psychologist Niobe Way answered questions about why boys are struggling in school. It’s a topic I wrote about a few years ago, after Peg Tyre published The Trouble With Boys.

Way’s take on the situation is that boys experience a “crisis of connection.” Stereotypical notions of masculinity assume that boys aren’t expressive and don’t have—or perhaps even need—close friendships. But boys both need and want deep connections, said Way. And in her research, she’s found that many boys have close friendships that are being discouraged by anxiety about being seen as gay or effeminate.

The weight of stereotypes about masculinity only worsens as boys come of age, according to Way, a professor of applied psychology at New York University. “We live in a culture where the essence of maturity is separation and independence,” she said. For that reason, boys are “disconnecting with people right at the time they need to be connecting.”

Having close friendships is linked to such things as better physical and mental health, lower rates of drug use and gang membership, and “higher levels of academic achievement and engagement.” Way said teachers and schools should foster close friendships through peer counseling, advisory groups, and by rewarding daily acts of kindness. “We’re born as empahic beings,” she said. “We don’t need to teach kindness, we need to foster it.” Schools should devote time to developing boys’ social and emotional health and encouraging boys to be expressive. One-on-one peer counseling is a good method for this, but it “can’t be perceieved as something only troubled boys go to,” she said. Ideally, all boys would participate.

She mentioned a Canadian program called Roots of Empathy (see our Teaching Now post on this a few months ago), in which babies are brought into classrooms to help increase students’ empathy. The program has helped reduce absenteeism and bullying.

Way also described a study in which people stood at the bottom of a hill with a backpack on and were asked to estimate the hill’s incline. People standing next to their best friend tended to offer the least steep estimation. That is, they perceived the hill as less difficult than those standing alone or next to an acquaintance.

So I asked: What’s the practical implication of that study in the classroom? Should teachers have boys sit next to their best friends? (Most teachers purposefully prohibit this—and understandably so!) “Yes,” said Way. “If they can sit together and behave themselves, that’s great.”

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.

Events

Student Well-Being Webinar Boosting Teacher and Student Motivation During the Pandemic: What It Takes
Join Alyson Klein and her expert guests for practical tips and discussion on how to keep students and teachers motivated as the pandemic drags on.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
A Holistic Approach to Social-Emotional Learning
Register to learn about the components and benefits of holistically implemented SEL.
Content provided by Committee for Children
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
How Principals Can Support Student Well-Being During COVID
Join this webinar for tips on how to support and prioritize student health and well-being during COVID.
Content provided by Unruly Studios

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Washington Data Processing Representative - (WAVA)
Tacoma, Washington, United States
K12 Inc.
Software Engineer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
Proposal Writer
Portland, OR, US
Northwest Evaluation Association
CCLC Program Site Director
Thornton, CO, US
Adams 12 Five Star Schools

Read Next

Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: February 3, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 20, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
9 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: January 13, 2021
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read