Campus News

Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

January 26, 2000

Boys made to be boys? Parents pushing sons to take more risks

Parents socialize their sons to take more risks than their daughters and provide them with less assistance in performing dangerous tasks, according to a new study by University of Guelph researchers.

As a result, parents may be placing their sons at a greater risk than girls to sustain injury, say Psychology Prof. Barbara Morrongiello and research assistant Tess Dawber. They also conclude that how parents communicate with their children may shape and promote sex differences in children's risk-taking, a little-explored area of research.

"Boys may come to assume that it is appropriate and acceptable for them to engage in risk-taking behaviours," the researchers say. "They may come to assume that they can manage injury risk successfully. Otherwise their parent would not be encouraging such behaviour.

"This type of parental response may heighten girls' awareness of injury risk and their concerns about their vulnerability for injury, thereby deterring them from engaging in behaviours that pose a threat of injury."

As part of their studies, the Guelph researchers examined how parents taught their children, ages two to four, to slide down a firehouse-type pole. They studied 48 families.

They found that parents told their sons how to complete the task independently and pressed them to complete the task 65 per cent of the time, compared to only 19 per cent for daughters.

In addition, parents spontaneously provided physical support to help their daughters complete the task 67 per cent of the time, compared to 17 per cent for boys. When a child resisted the request to complete the task, 58 per cent of parents continued to insist to their sons that they complete the task, and in a more insistent manner than that used with girls. Parents' instructions to girls also emphasized injury vulnerability and cautiousness.

The results were the same no matter whether instructions were given by the mother or father. There were also no differences in the skills or abilities of the boys and girls studied.

The study appears in the fall 1999 issue of the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.

The researchers say the findings are significant because beginning at age three, boys experience two to four times more injuries than girls. Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of childhood mortality beyond one year of age.

Contact: Prof. Barbara Morrongiello, Department of Psychology (519) 824-4120, Ext. 3086.

For media questions, contact Alex Wooley, Manager of Media Relations, (519) 824-4120, Ext. 6982.

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