In The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World, Anthony Rao, Ph.D. cautions parents and educators to stop treating young boyhood as an illness.
One of the interesting things Rao says is that young boys do not naturally like eye contact.
I mentioned this at a party and a young man said, “It’s confrontational.”
Which is exactly what Rao says too. He says the males of our species are similar to other fight or flight mammals, like dogs, where direct eye contact is a direct challenge, an invitation to confrontation.
Rao says this is true for even very young infants.
Girls, he says, will soak up eye contact as intimacy and communication from their earliest moments.
Boys, naturally, will look away, take glimpses and rely heavily on peripheral vision. Often this makes teachers and parents believe boys aren’t listening to them. Often “no eye contact” is confused with a symptom of Asbergers or Autism, he says. This is simply the natural way of boys he said. Forcing a boy to make eye contact will feel emotionally terrible to them. They can work on improving how much eye contact they make, but they experience an inherent discomfort when making prolonged eye contact.
The eye contact has been a noticeable difference in my own two children. As I assume most parents have, I’ve gone through the checklist of symptoms and warnings for autism and thought, “well, he doesn’t make a lot of eye contact.”
I’ve been doing a little experiment to see how men, in general, respond to eye contact.
They look to the left, look to the right, look at the wall, look down at their papers, stare off into space, back up, blink and a few have actually spoken to me with their eyes completely closed.
Try it. It’s fascinating.
More about The Way of Boys.