Do boys “hate” girls anymore? Do girls still have cooties? I honestly don’t know.
I know I never went through such a phase. For gag awards at the end of second grade, I got the Lover Boy Award. I liked doing little boy stuff, but I also liked little girls who liked doing little boy stuff.
A dad’s advice for teaching his boys how to talk to girls boils down to three important things.
I’d go enjoy little girl stuff too. Jennifer, across the cul-de-sac, had the Barbie Dream House full of stuff and the Barbie Corvette and the Barbie Jeep. Barbie and Ken didn’t have to drive shoes at her house! Very cool. And what was it, really, but playing with action figures? Jennifer’s playroom was a great place to spend a rainy afternoon.
I never outgrew my affection for marinating in estrogen. I’m platonic friends with more women than any other straight man you know. Perhaps that’s a factor in our boys never having a transient aversion to girls, though I haven’t really noticed the phenomenon at church either, which is the only place I’m regularly around large numbers of children. So maybe it’s just less of a thing now.
Our boys haven’t had much trouble talking to girls (so far; more on that below). Moreover, they’re mostly receptive when I have something to say about how to do it. (I realize that may be a fleeting blessing as my older one pushes deeper into the teen years and I start getting really dumb. Rocket City Moms and Dads, get to them while they’re still young and you’re still smart!)
I really reinforce only three things to them.
Friends Are Friends
Something they’ve mostly figured out by themselves, with occasional guidance, is that “little boy stuff” and “little girl stuff” are mostly illusory. There are little boys who will enjoyably sit at tea parties, and there are little girls who will go hunt tadpoles, and that’s great, but it’s not even what I really mean.
When Nathan builds his technological nest (computer in lap, phone in hand, and headphones) to go on Minecraft raids, he plays with girls. Simultaneously, he doesn’t play with girls. He plays with his friends, who are girls. Soccer scrimmages? Youth group activities? Ditto. Playing is playing. I think when Nathan gets in the zone, it never occurs to him to assign any novelty to the gender of his companions. And guess what? They don’t want that novelty. They’ll notice who hangs it on them and who doesn’t.
Mind Your Manners
The second thing I say is to be a gentleman. Even here in the South, this has become a depressingly low bar to get over. Your son doesn’t have to be very gentlemanly anymore to be the biggest gentleman in the room. However, to me, that just makes it all the more important to get it right. Ladies first. Hold the door. Offer your seat to a girl who is standing. If she refuses, don’t make a fuss. Walk on the street side of the sidewalk. Speak clearly in complete sentences, and look her in the eye when you do. Unless she takes the lead on telling gross stories, save yours for the guys.
Fake It Till You Make It
The third thing is something I’ve only just started to emphasize, but that grows dramatically in importance throughout adolescence and into adulthood: seize the moment. If you want to talk to her, do it, or someone else will. This gets really prickly particularly in late adolescence, when they’re not children but definitely not yet adults and competing for prom dates and such.
It’s so elementary when we look back on it now, yet so difficult for our poor teenagers to believe when they’re actually suffering through it: everyone is unsure of themselves. It’s one high school kid in a thousand who’s operating without significant insecurity.
If you want her attention, then go get it. A laugh will earn you 30 seconds of one-on-one from nearly anyone, and that’s usually enough time to get past the worst of the awkwardness. Realize that she’s tiptoeing through the conversation every bit as much as you are. If you can’t genuinely feel the confidence, then build skill at looking like you do. That’s usually enough.
It’s also the only disingenuousness I can recall actively advising my children to undertake, though I do find it morally defensible. Fake it till you make it? On this? Sure.
(Gee, these guidelines for talking to girls look like good ones for talking to women, too.)