Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
March 29, 2024 ·  6 min read

If You Want To Protect Your Daughters, Raise Better Sons

A study was published in the Journal Behavioral Neuroscience. It observed fathers interacting with their toddler-aged and sons and daughters with the goal of analyzing any gender-based differences in their interactions. The researchers noticed that the fathers used different uses of language and attentiveness for each one.

This was an interesting finding since previous research on the different upbringings of girls and boys consisted of questionnaires where parents say they treat them the same. And studies that take place in a laboratory may not represent typical parent-child interactions.

To observe real-live interactions, researchers gave recording devices to dads to wear on their belts during one typical weekday and one typical weekend. For the sake of privacy and authenticity, the device only recorded 50-second snippets of sound every nine minutes and the father and child didn’t know exactly when they were being recorded, so they were able to act naturally.

Two hours of sound were received from each father and the researchers evaluated the dads’ behaviors, attentiveness, and language.

They found that fathers sang more with their little girls, and would use more language referring to emotions and the body as opposed to with their sons. They also tended to use more analytical words like “more” and “better” that can encourage more complex language development.

To their sons, dads used more achievement-focused words like “win,” “proud,” and “top,” and played more rough-and-tumble type games like tickling or tossing their sons around.

When it came to attentiveness, the fathers were more responsive to the daughters’ needs than their sons.

The researchers couldn’t tie these findings to any long-term outcomes in the children, but they did demonstrate how parenting can develop and enforce gender roles, according to the lead study author Jennifer Mascaro, an assistant professor of family and preventive medicine at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. [1][2]

Read: Should Dads Be Allowed to Stay Overnight in Maternity Wards?

What Are We Teaching Our Boys?

“Boys are socialized to be disconnected from themselves and others,” explains Judy Y. Chu, author of When Boys Become Boys: Development, Relationships, and Masculinity and a lecturer at Stanford University. She explains that traditional notions of masculinity encourage stoicism over sensitivity and isolation over intimacy. “That does them great harm in terms of their social relationships, their psychological development, and even their physical health.

Statistics back this up: Men commit suicide four times the rate of women. They tend to die young and are more likely to consume alcohol at dangerous levels, drop out of high school, be homeless, or imprisoned. They are also more likely to fall victim to violent crimes than women, but they are also more likely to be the perpetrators. [3]

This last point is what makes parents of girls so afraid for their daughters’ wellbeing. So much so that they give her different lessons than they would give their sons. They teach her how to protect herself while the sons are bombarded with objectifying images of women, take any sports game for instance. Girls are taught to be refined and mindful of others while boys can be boys. After all, it’s more likely than the daughters could end up abused, kidnapped, pregnant, or worse. In comparison, teaching boys about topics of consent, abuse, and safety feels less important.

Writer on Madame Noire Arah Iloabugichukwu discusses her upbringing and how it differed from her brothers’.

“They didn’t learn modesty by watching their sisters get lectured on the importance of their skirts reaching their fingertips, they learned that what women wore determined their decency,” she said. “They didn’t learn to respect the sexual autonomy of young women by hearing their sisters get lectured on the importance of not being ‘fast and friendly,’ they learned that the girls who were ‘fast and friendly’ weren’t deserving of the little respect they had to give.”

Therefore, when sons bring girls home is a much different scene than when the daughters bring a boy home. Except those girls are other people’s daughters.

One father, Scott Dannemiller, summed this idea up on  HuffPost:

“Dads, if we want to protect our daughters, it starts with our sons. And teaching them about consent.

He goes on to say that we can teach our daughters about stranger danger, but the fact is 80% of sexual assault victims know their attacker personally.

“It’s not enough just to offer general platitudes and tell our boys to respect other people,” says Dannemiller. “Just like the birds and the bees, we need to provide details about what consent really means. Otherwise, we are the ones responsible for painting a black and white issue with shades of gray.”

Read: “I Raised Four Sons as a Single Mom. Now That They’re Grown, I’m Off to Europe,” – Jen McGuire

How to Raise a ‘Real Man’

While it may be easy and catchy to say “raise boys like you’d raise girls,” the solution isn’t that simple, since boys have different struggles parents need to prepare them for. However, there may be some truth to this, as you’ve seen with the study of dads interacting with their toddler sons and daughters. Attentiveness and emotional support that is usually given to girls can be just as important for boys.

Teach that vulnerability is not a weakness, that boys can be true to themselves, how to be a leader without dominating, and how to avoid relying on aggression to assert their masculinity. It’s a paradox; we want our sons to be strong and sensitive, so our parenting may also seem a little paradoxical: hold them accountable while giving them unconditional love.

We can do this by listening to them without conjuring up a solution and interrupting. Allow them to get into touch with their feelings and come to their own conclusions before jumping with a way to negate their emotions. This teaches empathy.

On this topic, help our sons develop emotional intelligence by avoiding dismissive phrases like “you shouldn’t feel sad” or “it’s not a big deal” or “you shouldn’t cry about this.” Instead, help him understand what his emotions mean and how to manage them instead of how to swallow them.

And finally, allow him to ask for help and to fail. This gives our sons experiences where he’s not in control and he doesn’t have to be. Don’t rescue him, even if it makes things more convenient. He will learn from his mistakes and how to admit it when he messes up. This gives him accountability for his actions. This counters the unhealthy form of masculinity where the man must always be in the right and in control. Learning how to make mistakes and accept personal flaws creates a more empathetic, well-rounded, and independent person. [4]

Keep Reading: These Six Moms Didn’t Circumcise Their Sons And Here Are Their Reasons.


  1. Cari Nierenberg. Dads’ Brains React Differently to Sons and Daughters. Live Science. May 26, 2017
  2. Child gender influences paternal behavior, language, and brain function.
  3. Matt Alderton. Raising Better Boys. USA Today. July 27, 2019 
  4. Adam Price Ph.D. The Paradox of Raising Boys. Psychology Today. July 30, 2019