Mummy’s boys versus macho boys and mental health

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According to research carried out by Carols Santos, a professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social and Family Dynamics and recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, boys who are close to their mothers have better mental health.

The study followed 426 boys at middle school and assessed how much they embraced so called masculine stereotypical qualities such as being tough, autonomous and emotionally stoic and whether this had an effect on their mental health.

Santos measured the mental health of the boys using the Children’s Depression Inventory.

What the research revealed was that adolescent boys tended to favour hyper-masculine stereotypes the further they advanced into adolescence.

However, they were less emotionally stable than those who were close to their mothers and did not show the same traits such as acting tough and keeping their emotions in check. Interestingly, the level of closeness to the father didn’t have the same effect.

“If you look at the effect size of my findings, mother support and closeness was the most predictive of boys’ ability to resist [hypermasculine] stereotypes and therefore predictive of better mental health” Santos is reported as saying in

The research didn’t reveal why boys who were closer to their mothers had better mental health. “It could be, men see close relationships with their sons as an opportunity to reinforce traditional gender roles” said Santos.

The BBC quoted Santos as saying “Helping boys resist these behaviours early on seems to be a critical step toward improving their health and the quality of their social relationships.”

The BBC recently reported on a different study, this time by Professor Sharon Lamb from the University of Massachusetts which says that today’s superhero is not a good role model for young boys.

The study was also presented at the American Psychological Association meeting and involved surveying 674 boys aged between 4 and 18 to ascertain what they watched on TV and what they read.

“Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity” said Professor Lamb.

Perhaps it’s best summed up by Niobe Way, a professor of psychology at New York University. quotes Way as saying:

“We have come to view fundamentally human attributes such as empathy, emotional skills and the desire for intimate relationships as being girlish or gay. They are not girlish or gay skills — they are human skills, or at least they should be.”

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