Why are adolescent and emerging adult males more likely to develop externalizing problems than adolescent and emerging adult females internalizing problems?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Externalization and internalization are socialization measures. Children develop habits, skills, values and motives in order to make them responsible and productive members of society. Once entrenched, children are able to  conform to society's standards for their own reasons and not because of instructions from parents or to receive awards and avoid punishment (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994).

Self-regulation is key for children and links all domains of development; physical, cognitive, social and emotional. The conscience develops alongside self-regulation and is an internalized moral standard which infers a voluntary response to events and actions.

Due to stereotyped relationships between parents and children, or peers, some parents tend to foster emotional and maternal traits in their daughters and encourage their sons to be little 'tough guys' who are expected to use physical references rather than emotional ones in their responses to situations.

Boisterous and inappropriate or oppositional behavior and a disregard for rules and regulations is only the start. There is a prevalence amongst boys for Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder (AD(H)D) rather than girls. Unfortunately, uncontrolled external reactions can lead to aggression and delinquency. Boys prefer to settle disputes with their fists rather than through conversation - a typical external reaction. Action before thought is also representative of externalization.

Externalization has direct physical consequences - sometimes life-changing and irreversible -  whereas internalization may be less noticeable and is handled in a more structured, ongoing way.  

In a modern society more girls are fending for themselves and do not want to be seen as "sissies" so externalization is more real for them. However, society still demands generally maternal behavior from females and so they struggle less with external factors as they are not "required" to be macho, as the adolescent or emerging adult male is.

The confusion over gender roles is another reason why young males have more trouble with externalization than young females with internalization. Young men constantly have to prove themselves. Perhaps a young man behaved in a caring and affectionate way and now has to prove himself to his friends who are mocking him.

Society has a lot to answer for as we place demands on our young people and confuse them when we constantly change the parameters. The press has had an influence on behavior and reactions due to events being recorded and plastered all over the screen and pages of the newspaper. Whilst the media is not responsible for the internalization and externalization it does contribute to the confusion in our young adults:

 the media is a reflection of society much more than it is an agent of shaping society.

No matter how forward- thinking we think we are, we do create confusion and expectations and then wonder when we do not produce perfect specimens.  



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