Differences in brains of boys, girls should guide teaching strategies

Michael Gurian, a New York Times bestselling author, will offer his insights on the differences between boys and girls at a free workshop Wednesday, Feb. 8 at McClintock High School.

By Diana Whittle

It’s not often that a New York Times best-selling author comes to town, but Dr. Michael Gurian was well-received by area residents during a free workshop sponsored by the Tempe Union High School District.

A highly regarded marriage and family counselor, Gurian gained international renown as an author on gender differences, specifically in adolescents. His ongoing research serves as the basis for his prolific writing career.

Gurian calls himself a “social philosopher” who pioneered efforts to bring neurobiology and brain research into homes, schools, corporations and public policy.  The Gurian Institute, which he co-founded and recently relocated to Chandler, conducts research internationally, launches pilot programs and trains professionals. 

The author of 28 books, Gurian presented his thoughts during a public seminar on better parenting and educating of youth, particularly in an era when they are easily distracted by the constant use of cell phones and social media.

More than 400 community residents attended the public presentation, presumably anxious for complementary advice on learning ways to better parent their teenagers. He gave the nighttime audience insight into the differences in the brain development between boys and girls and noted that, particularly during junior high, girls are better than boys in being able to focus on words and concepts.

The spokesperson for TUHSD, Jill Hanks, said the district hosted the speaker as a “way to address social and emotional wellness—which takes a whole community.”

Among those attending were two board members in the neighboring Kyrene district, Michael Myrick and Michelle Fahy. Both said they gained useful insights during the presentation.

“In my house, video games will only be allowed on the weekend and limited in duration to a few hours,” said Myrick, who was recently elected to the Kyrene board.

Myrick is also taking Gurian’s suggestion to heart to limit time with other forms of technology and encourage physical activity as a way for his sons to decompress from the school day.

“Dr. Gurian suggests holding off on smart phones for children until they reach the age of 13,” said Myrick, “and he provided data to suggest children who do use them constantly can have negative impacts on their brain’s development. I think a more basic phone can be a more practical option for someone under 13.”

Kyrene Board Member Fahy, also newly elected, brings the perspective of being both a parent and an educator. She noted that she learned more about the behavioral differences of teenage boys and girls.

“Gurian’s explanation of how male and female brains are different helped me to understand many behaviors seen in a classrooms every day,” said Fahy.

“One thing that really stood out to me was the importance of movement and spatial skills in boys. Equally important was to understand that girls connect deeply with friends and have a strong ability to pick up on non-verbal social cues from others.

“Knowing these concepts can help teachers develop alternative methods for communicating with students and responding to behaviors in the classroom,” said Fahy. 

In addition to the public workshop, Gurian spent several hours during the day with about 850 TUHSD educators to offer his advice on the best way to reach youth who may not be tuned in to classroom learning.

He recommends more physical exercise for all youth so there is less chance of neurotoxic harm that can be obtained from excessive screen time on the computer, with video games and particularly with cell phones.

“Kids’ brains can easily be overstimulated by the electronics devices and it can impact brain development,” said Gurian.

He pointed out that the electronic devices have reduced the social skills of boys, increased their aggressive tendencies and allowed them to mature into adults at a much later age than previous generations. “We have young people still living in their parents’ basements at the age of 25 who have taken no responsibility for their own futures and exhibit very little motivation,” said Gurian.

Robin Palmer, a teacher at Corona del Sol High School, attended the teachers session and said she recognized some of her students in Gurian’s examples.

“Dr. Gurian’s information about the male’s brain going into a rest state made perfect sense when I thought about my male students,” said Palmer, “and I will work to incorporate a couple of new ideas into my classroom to get the students out of their seats and into a simple physical activity to re-energize the brain.”

She felt her time at the seminar was well-spent. “I believe that this event was a valuable service for our community,” said Palmer.

“Education is changing—expectations are changing—families are changing. As educators, we need to be a cohesive group in determining what is best for our students so that we can produce an educated and responsible workforce—that’s really our goal as educators.”



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