Men are from Mars, women are from Venus…or are they? Are the differences between boys and girls really that great? Or, is our biological determinism more of a self-fulfilled prophecy?

Neuroscience tells us that yes: boys and girls are different. Boys’ brains are larger, but girls’ brains grow faster and typically their interests and learning styles vary somewhat. But are these differences as significant as we once thought?

New studies tell us that it is the environment that we create for our children that has the greatest impact on the way they learn and what they learn. We can go back through history and point out notable men and women who have gone against gender stereotypes. We can talk about Wolfgang Mozart, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michael Angelo — men who had fine motor dexterity, could sit for long periods of time, had beautiful handwriting, and who were interested in arts, literature, music, and writing.

We can talk about women such as tennis legend Billie Jean King, astronaut Sally Ride, one of the country’s earliest civil engineers Marilyn Jorgensen Reece, Aviator Jacqueline Cochran, doctor and researcher Elizabeth Blackburn, and so on – women in history who were interested in athletics, math, engineering, and science.

In today’s world, the outliers are more the rule than the exception, and parents have the greatest impact on both the suppression and enhancement of their children’s genetic makeup.

All generalizations are false, including this one.

It is true that many boys pick up less social cues than their female counterparts. That girls make more serotonin and oxytocin, so they are calmer and more interested in emotional connection. Boys mature more slowly than girls and girls have more of their cerebral cortex defined for verbal function. The hippocampus, where memory and language live, does develop more rapidly and is larger in girls than in boys. This impacts vocabulary, reading, and writing skills. Boys on the other hand have more of their cerebral cortex defined for spatial relationships. As a result, they learn easily through movement and visual experience. Also, because girls have more serotonin and oxytocin, they can sit for longer periods of time, easier than boys who may need movement to feel comfortable.

However, there is very little gap between what girls and boys can learn, and herein lies the rub. In fact, the differences are most pronounced in young children, and as children grow older, their home environment, their interests, and their peers have the greatest influence over their behavior. By the time children are in the 12th grade, the differences between boys and girls are very subtle. Understanding these subtle differences can help educators guide their students in a positive way, meeting them and their needs where they are.

When little boys don’t want to make eye contact and they fidget in their seats, and little girls are caught talking and sending notes, a savvy teacher can organize her classroom in which she takes into consideration that little boys need to move around, and little girls need to express themselves verbally, and interprets this as part of their biology rather than misbehavior. A savvy parent can be sure that there are playtime opportunities during the day for both boys and girls to unwind and express themselves in a creative way. Further, allowing children to start school especially little boys a little later, perhaps even by a year, gives them an edge. A more mature child can handle school material in a much better way.

In my years as a researcher and educator, I’ve found it to be true that boys and girls perceive their school problems in different ways. Girls tend to take their problems and failures personally, and are much more self-critical. Boys, on the other hand, may see their problems in more focused ways and will assign their failure to a particular area of study rather than over-generalize and see themselves as lacking. Ironically girls tend to do better in school than boys and are more likely to stay in school and graduate.

So what can we do to help boys and girls have a happy, fulfilling, well-rounded, and successful school career?

  1. Be certain that your child’s school has a recess program that includes unstructured playtime.
  2. Be careful to not label children, especially with labels such as ADD & ADHD, unless they are diagnosed by a health care professional. Many boys and some girls are just on the outer edge of active and are being mislabeled, or have other issues leading them to be anxchous or on on high alert.
  3. Encourage girls to play with toys and activities that allow them to use their spatial relationship and manipulation skills.
  4. Encourage boys to take study breaks and allow your son to be active during those study breaks.
  5. Help your daughter talk through her feelings about schoolwork and school problems. Because girls may focus on communication, relationships, and attention for approval, they can easily get caught up in an intense emotional experience. Often a girl will subvert her own feelings, including needs, to get the approval of others and this causes self-esteem issues.
  6. Engage your daughter in sports, as one way to help her build confidence.
  7. Help your son with literacy skills, including reading, writing, journaling, drawing, creativity, fantasy, humor, war, and mythology.  Boys are action-oriented, often competitive and impulsive risk-takers, so giving them an opportunity to express themselves creatively, and explore their interests is very important. This will help connect their words to their feelings and validate both.
  8. Offer your daughter the opportunity to experience STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) using everyday examples. By having access to a computer, girls can build, design, and explore anything from architecture, medicine, engineering, to culinary experiences. You can also enroll your daughter in one of the many STEM programs around the country.
  9. Make sure teachers understand the different learning styles of boys and girls so that they are able to create a learning environment that meets the needs of both, by teaching different modalities that capture girls’ needs for spatial learning practice, including geometry, and boys’ needs for enrichment projects.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.