I’ve been doing some thinking about the key differences in the way young boys and girls socialise. My research is based on talking directly to about 20 boys and girls aged 7-13 in Sydney..so essentially the tweens and early teens. Here are some thoughts on the differences I see in how they interact with each other and the psychology behind it.
‘MY CREW’ VS ‘US’
Younger boys hang in larger groups less structured groups, they seek validation by surrounding themselves with 4-5 friends all the time. They seek out less intense relationships, happy to see those buddies once or twice a week and hang out at the skater park. Their conversations are very ‘light on’, they never go into much detail, they are starting to develop their masculine side and it’s seen as weakness if you talk in lots of detail with your buddies about stuff…no conversations on a topic last more than 5 minutes. A key part of this is the word ‘MY’ – all the young boys I spoke to saw themselves as the centre of their tribe, even though they clearly weren’t J. They are very much into ‘my crew’ mentality and seek belonging within these mini tribes which exist typically at a locational level in where they live.
In contrast, young girls of the same age display duo or ‘US’ behaviour, in that they seek intense relationships with 1-2 other girls.At this age, rather than spend time organising to ‘meet the girls’ (this kicks in around 15), they are far more into the 1-1 dynamic, where they can dive deep into stuff in their lives: pop stars, boys at school, dance, etc, etc. At school they are very much defined and classified by who their ‘bestie’ (best friend) is. Whereas for boys, it’s more the collective of 6+ close friends.
‘SIDE BY SIDE’ vs ‘FACE TO FACE’
Boys are more mechanical in their interactions with their buddies, their connections typically revolve around ‘playing sports’ with each other, hanging at the skate park, playing xbox, going down to the beach. There’s very much a ‘side by side’ mentality and the tween and early teen years are all about finding what you’re good at. It’s a time of constant discovery and experimentation.
Girls are into ‘face to face’ time, it’s about more intimate dialogues, online or offline. For them it’s about ‘getting to know each’ other and they are starting to develop their nurturing and supportive personalities.
COMPETITION vs CO-OPERATION
Competition between males is part of our DNA, and kids/tweens start exhibiting this behaviour on through ‘dares’ and ‘physical challenges’. The boys I spoke to were all about ‘daring’ each other to do tricks in the skate park, jump off logs into the creeks. It’s all about status within their micro communities and achievement. They are starting to master their body and this then builds as they get into more competitive sports at school. In the virtual world this competitive side also comes out through the games they play, typically fantasy and war games, so they are also displaying more ‘aggressive’ personality traits than previous kid/tween generations.
If boys are about ‘competition’, girls are about ‘CO-OPERATION’. For them these years are about exploring relationships, the need to constantly connect and seek validation about their personalities, their likes and interest. Today kids are seeking immense pressure in how they manage their online personas, how they are perceived on facebook, bebo etc.
Marketers looking to engage kids aged 7-13 need to think about these gender differences between young boys and girls and the psychology behind their interactions. Obviously, BELONGING and developing their self identity via interactions with other kids is part of growing up, but it is interesting to see the fundamental differences between the sexes which continue to manifest into later teen years and early adulthood. I’m going to do a similar study on 14-18yr olds and to see wha