How does emotional intelligence help end the boy crisis?

by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation

You don’t have to be a clinical psychologist to see girls have made indisputable strides during the past few decades. One of the main reasons for their progress is because of their emotional intelligence. Girls develop emotional intelligence during their early socialization process. But it’s not second nature to boys.

“There is an ever-widening gap between the heroic intelligence that it took our sons to be respected as men in the past and the emotional intelligence needed for your son’s future,” says Warren Farrell, Ph.D. author of The Boy Crisis. “Yet few schools are teaching communication skills and empathy training to help boys make that transition.”

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters 

To understand the importance of that transition, let’s look at why emotional intelligence is critical for a boy’s future. “The more sophisticated artificial intelligence becomes the greater the need to fill the emotional intelligence void,” says Farrell.  He believes that female-dominated caring professions like health care or home care will thrive while traditional male careers will shrink. Some might argue that artificial intelligence can partially replicate emotional intelligence. But it won’t replace how important emotional intelligence is for a father, male partner, physician, or nurse to be effective. 

Emotional Intelligence is to respond appropriately to the subtleties of body language, tones of voice, speech patterns, and eye contact. It also includes knowing when it’s best to listen rather than to speak. Or when creating space is better than being proactive. These characteristics are the voids Artificial Intelligence will create. As a result, filling those voids will become valuable and command greater pay — an opportunity for boys. That opportunity will only exist if they can learn empathy and emotional intelligence. 

Are boys inferior to girls developing emotional intelligence? Not when there’s money on the line. Kristi Klein and Sara Hodges discussed this in “Gender Differences, Motivation, and Empathic Accuracy: When It Pays to Understand.” That article was published in June 2001 in Personality and Psychology Bulletin 27.

Expert Advice

Studies show that when observing casually, girls pick up more accurately what others are feeling. But when there is pay offered to assess the feelings of others the empathy gender gap disappears.  This implies that the capacity for empathy and emotional intelligence is just dormant within boys. Dormant until they know it becomes valuable to develop those characteristics.

” Parents can foster empathy and emotional intelligence,” says Linda Olson, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist. “This can be done by understanding what your son is feeling and by validating his feelings,” says Olson.  She suggests that parents first ask themselves what does my child need from me right now. That is better than asking what they “think” or what they want to “do.”

Olson explains that asking your son “what are you feeling” rather than “what happened” will elicit different dialogue. “Asking them about how they feel helps them to acknowledge and own their own feelings, which builds empathy,” she says. “Parents should avoid the trap of telling their child what to do or how to feel.” 

Build emotional intelligence and empathy

For example, a validating statement like “that makes sense you feel misunderstood and alone” helps build emotional intelligence and empathy. “We build empathy by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes, listening, and validating their feelings,” says Olson. “Try to see the world from your son’s point of view. What stressors does he have? How would you feel if you were in his shoes?” 

She explains that in her practice taking a trip back to childhood is necessary for building empathy and emotional intelligence. It also creates lasting results. “I often ask my patients to bring in a picture of when they were young,” says Olson. “I tell them the child inside you needs your help. Your child within needs you to see them, hear them, guide them and love them.” 

An effective approach she uses is to first ask her patients to hold the picture in their hands. Then to ask their child within what they need the most from their adult self. “Talking to your child within creates a sense of clarity, will eliminate the unresolved pain,” says Olson. It can help build self-compassion and empathy.”   

How Schools Can Help

Although the personality characteristics of children are developed at home in the formative years, schools can also help. Many schools are funded to stop bullying. “Bullies and those bullied have three things in common,” according to Predictors of Bullying and Victimization in Childhood and Adolescence. This article by Clayton Cook was published in School Psychology Quarterly 25. “Both come from negative family, school and community environments; both have low self-esteem, and both have poor social skills.”

Apparently, both bullies and those bullied are vulnerable. Teaching empathy and emotional skills would help. It would also help boys compete in professions with the greatest demand. Since these skills can be taught, schools must include this curriculum during the formative years.

Fortunately, schools from K-12 across the United States are using an effective evidence-based Social and Emotional Learning program. This program is called the Choose Love Enrichment Program. It was developed by Jessie Lewis Choose Love Foundation, an organization founded by Scarlett Lewis. She lost her six-year-old son, Jessie, in the tragic 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. 

Joseph Cohen is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.

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