BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

The BBC's Karen Allen
"Psychiatrists say it goes back to the womb"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 11 April, 2000, 10:53 GMT 11:53 UK
Why men behave badly
Lack of attention may be linked to hyperactivity
Baby boys need more attention than girls and if they do not get it they may develop behavioural problems later in life, a researcher says.

The controversial theory will be presented at an international conference in London on parenting by consultant child psychiatrist Dr Sebastian Kraemer later this week.

He will argue that that physiological, and social factors make little boys more emotionally vulnerable than girls.

You should not try to toughen up a boy too soon. You can toughen up a teenager, but you cannot toughen up a baby

Dr Sebastian Kraemer, consultant child psychiatrist
But in many cases, he says, parents ignore this and expect their sons to behave as little men.

The theory is based on the fact that brain development is slightly slower in boys.

This may explain why, as infants they can be more demanding and harder to get off to sleep.

It may also be one of the reasons why in general boys are more likely to be disruptive and hyperactive, and why in later life suicides in young men are going up whilst in women they are coming down.

Dr Kraemer, who practises at the Tavistock Centre in London, said boys' brains took longer to develop because they were more complicated.

He said: "The fact that men behave badly in later life, I believe, is because of the disadvantage they come with, and because it not always recognised just how much in the early years, when their brain is actually forming, they need to be attentively cared for - which is nothing to do with spoiling - so that they learn to regulate themselves.

"Parents should be aware that boys may be more vulnerable, and recognise that if they take longer to get to sleep then they are just being typically male and need a bit more care.

"You should not try to toughen up a boy too soon. You can toughen up a teenager, but you cannot toughen up a baby."

Dr Sebastian Kraemer
Sebastian Kraemer believes young boys need more attention
Dr Kevin Epps, a clinical psychologist at Glenthorne Youth Treatment Centre in Birmingham, which looks after delinquent teenagers, said the theory sounded plausible.

He told BBC News Online: "It is accepted in the research literature that boys tend to have a higher risk of behavioural and psychological problems during early childhood, and this suggests that they may be more vulnerable at this age."

Dr Epps said behavioural problems in some teenagers were linked to hyperactivity in childhood. Hyperactivity is thought to be related to chemical activity in the brain.

He suggested that boys' brains might be slower to develop because the basic human genetic template was female, and hormonal and genetic modifications were required to create a male.

However, critics say that boys already appear to get more attention at home before they go to school.

Geraldine Smith is headteacher of St Joseph's Roman Catholic School in Brighton.

She said: "Generally speaking you might say that the boys are more confident.

"They are interested, they are more sociable, they are looking at things and playing with things with confidence, whereas sometimes the girls need to be persuaded."

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to other Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories