Archive for the ‘gender differences’ Category

I had a friend in college, a girl, who was really good at thinking about every possible scenario or outcome of every situation and how it would affect every person. In fact, I’m pretty sure if I asked her if she liked a certain restaurant, she’d begin to think about her last time at the restaurant, her interactions with the people she went with, how well she had kept in touch with those people since that trip, how good the food was, what she did that night after the trip, how that trip kept her from studying for a class that she now had a “B” in, what she would do to bring her grade back up, and who she would vote for President in the next election. (Okay, maybe that last part was a little overboard, but I’m not too sure it’s that far from the truth!).

 If I told you that guys and girls are different, I’m willing to guess that you’d believe me. If I told you that guys and girls communicate differently, I’m sure you’d nod your head in agreement. I know some of you are thinking, “Really ground-breaking thoughts here, David.” Bear with me.

 There’s a lot of people out there – mainly stand-up comedians – who have attempted to explain the communication difference between guys and girls. The most famous analogy is the spaghetti and waffles analogy. Girls’ brains are like spaghetti; that is, when they think or process information, it interacts with any other information in their brain as they jump from noodle to noodle on a never-ending maze of pasta. Guys’ brains, on the other hand, are like waffles. When we think or process information, we stay in one “box” of the waffle. We don’t jump from box to box and cross-reference our thoughts. We’re really good at thinking about one issue and one issue only.

 In my curiosity and desire to understand how to reach our students better, I started reading and researching to see if there is a biological reason for this, and if we need to respond in certain ways. Thankfully, there is in fact some great research that explains this phenomenon that has big implications for how we do middle school ministry.

Steve Gerali provides some great insight in his book Teenage Guys (a book I would highly recommend for any parent who has a teenage boy in the house). A girl’s corpus callosum (the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres) is more dense than a guy’s brain. Because of this, a girl will engage in cross-communication between both hemispheres, connecting information received with an emotive response. In other words, girls are more capable (biologically-speaking) of responding emotionally to a situation than guys.

 Guys do not engage in the cross-communication process like girls. Processing information will generally stay in one hemisphere of the brain, whereas girls will process information with BOTH hemispheres of the brain. It’s not that guys don’t understand emotions or can’t understand the emotionality of a situation; rather, because their brain hemispheres aren’t cross-communicating, they respond with a logical and analytical response instead of an emotive response.

 So… Moms, when you ask your son how his day was, and he responds, “fine,” that is his genuine response to your question. He processed your request, and his logical response to your question is that his day was indeed “fine.” Dads, when you ask your daughter how her day was, and she embarks on a detail-by-detail account of her day, starting with what she ate for breakfast, this is her brain’s way of cross-communication and processing her entire day to give you a genuine response. Every detail counted toward her ultimate feelings about her day.

 Gerali says this: 

“Women develop verbal and emotive skills more quickly than guys. They also tend to use about five times the number of words that a guy uses in one week. When problem solving, girls process and communicate the emotions of a situation. Guys, on the other hand, are more likely to verbalize the content or facts, not the affectual dynamic of an event. A guy’s brain is programmed to analyze; a girl’s to process” (172).

Part of this brain and communication difference is that girls will understand language and facial expressions better than guys. I remember when my younger brother was in middle school, he would come home and tell my parents that his teachers hated him and didn’t want him in the class. They would ask him why he thought this, and he would very matter-of-factly tell them that he could “just tell” from the way they looked at him. My parents would always follow-up and meet with the teachers after comments like these, and almost 100% of the time the teachers would respond with shock and being to explain how much they loved him being in the class and were always affirming his participation as well. He just did not understand the communicative element of facial expressions. His interpretations were totally erroneous.

 As a middle schooler’s brain develops throughout puberty, he will be able to process communication much better than before, but we must understand that there are things they will not understand from our body language. We need to clearly communicate exactly what we are thinking and feeling when interacting with middle school kids.

Here are a couple thoughts about how we respond as we interact with and minister to our middle school students (and please add your own!):

  1. Don’t assume. Just because you understand what you’re saying, it doesn’t mean the student (especially of the opposite gender) will understand what you mean. Don’t ever assume that they are thinking what you are thinking. Take the time to evaluate what the student might interpret what you’re saying. Think about your body language and what it might incorrectly communicate to a middle school boy.
  2. Teach GUYS a new way. When you’re talking with a middle school boy, don’t ask questions that will lead to a one-word answer. Ask open ended questions like, “What was the best part of your day?” or “On a scale of 1 to 10 how much do you like your new school AND why?” Also try to get them to evaluate situations from an emotional perspective. Ask them how they feel about the new coach they have on their team. Since the brain is plastic, we can encourage new neuron pathways that over time will develop into a habit that beforehand wasn’t a reality. (On a side note, in my middle school small groups with guys, I constantly try to get them to engage their emotions with the topic, but not to a point where it’s too uncomfortable. For example, I ask at the beginning of each week’s small group about how they feel, using one of these words: happy, angry, sad, scared, excited, or tender. They also have to explain WHY they feel that way. By giving them options, it is less intimidating than for a middle school boy to verbalize an emotion on his own.)
  3. Give GIRLS space to process. Now I don’t consider myself an expert AT ALL in the area of ministry with girls, but other women I have worked with have articulated the need for more time to let the girls talk through the issues. Since the brain is in high gear cross-communicating through both hemispheres, it may take them longer to understand why they feel the way they do.

 I strongly believe that God intentionally made guys and girls differently because we need each other to function as the body of Christ. Like it says in 1 Corinthians 12, the hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you.” By working together as guys and girls, we can bring the love of Christ to a world in need with our particular communication differences. I am indebted to the women in my life (you know who you are!) who have been patient in explaining the unique needs of girls in ministry. I know I’m a better teacher in the middle school ministry because of their insight.

 What other implications would you add for our interactions with teens as we understand communication differences?