Forget those pop-culture talk shows saying that boys feel embarrassed when they talk about their problems. The truth is, they really see it as a waste of time. And a study at the University of Missouri- Columbia suggests that this sentiment can carry into adulthood.
"For years, psychologists have insisted that boys and men would like to talk about their problems but are held back by fears of embarrassment or appearing weak," said Amanda J. Rose, associate professor of psychological sciences in the university's College of Arts and Sciences.
Instead, boys say they felt "weird" when discussing their problems, according to the study.
They didn't feel embarrassed, worried about being teased or bad about not taking care of the problems by themselves, Rose said. In fact, she said, boys "didn't express angst or distress about discussing problems any more than girls."
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Researchers used the same questions on groups of boys and girls from 1998 to 2007, Rose said.
"Because the results were surprising, we felt we needed to demonstrate several times to make it credible," she said.
The study, "How Girls and Boys Expect Disclosure About Problems Will Make Them Feel: Implications for Friendships," has been submitted to the journal Child Development. The study was financed by the National Institute of Mental Health.
Rose said the study looked for gender differences in how teens communicate, she said. Researchers interviewed about 2,000 students from 1998 to 2007 in four segments of the study in central Missouri and had them fill out questionnaires.
One question asked: "If you talked about a problem you had, how would you feel?" Rose said.
The multiple-choice list included answers from boys to a question about why they don't talk.
One of the choices was that talking about problems was a "waste of time." That got the most responses, she said.
April Nesin, a pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children's Hospital, said the information in the study "speaks to some of the myths people have had about why boys or men don't talk."
The study recognizes that boys, like men, ponder problems to find solutions, Nesin said. So "boys say let's solve it, and if it's not solvable, move on."
Nesin also agrees with points in the study that say girls can take the other extreme.
"I think they can't let (emotional issues) go sometimes, that they talk about an issue to the point that they become obsessed with it," Nesin said.
The result is they saturate themselves with the bad feelings and slide into depression and anxiety, she said.
Rose said the implication was that "parents should encourage their children to adopt a middle ground when discussing problems.
"For boys, it would be helpful to explain that, at least for some problems, some of the time, talking about their problems is not a waste of time."
Often, Rose said, "moms really push their boys to talk to them about their problems, and moms feel hurt and rejected when their sons don't want to talk.
Researchers plan to interview the original teens, who will be 18 to 26 by now, Rose said.
More study could find routes to help men and women communicate better in families and other relationships, she said.