Why are beautiful girls not asked

Differences between boys and girls : The fairy tale of the early testosterone surge

Friday evening in Schöneberg. Several families have arranged to meet at the Italian restaurant to end the week. The adults are still sitting outside in front of their plates, the children, estimated to be between three and ten years old, have already got up. Somebody bought them a huge pack of crayons.

And now two groups have formed: In one of them everyone is crouching on the floor, people are busy painting on the pavement, flowers and animals can be seen. The other is more lively: Lines are drawn on the ground with different colors, which then have to be skipped: a long jump competition.

From the table, a father warns the children not to run over passers-by.

The children? Even if it may serve a cliché, one has to honor the truth: the girls paint and the boys jump. At least on this Friday evening, the children sorted themselves by gender in front of the pizzeria in Schöneberg.

When looking for explanations for why, from a certain age, girls prefer to play with other girls and boys with other boys, why the female part of the children's world tends to prefer role-playing games and particularly likes to paint and do handicrafts, while the male part is more interested in vehicles and competitive challenges are - then "the hormones" come into play today with a noticeable frequency. To be more precise, one of them: the male sex hormone testosterone.

Many well-known advisors spread the myth of the rise in hormones

In fact, the levels of this hormone in male babies are significantly higher shortly after birth than in female babies. "This is explained by the fact that the high maternal levels of the pregnancy hormone HCG stimulate the germ cells of the newborns and these then also produce testosterone in the boys and estrogen in the girls," explains the pediatrician and hormone specialist Oliver Blankenstein from the Charité, who also works for Labor Berlin, a joint facility of Charité and Vivantes, responsible for hormone and metabolic diagnostics.

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In this way it is ensured that the genitals develop according to the biological sex. Once that has happened, the sex hormones have done their part for the first time. After all, puberty, when they are needed again to turn children into adult men or women, is still a long way off.

But then, from around the age of ten to twelve, testosterone skyrockets. Boys' voices break, body hair sprout, the genital organs grow larger. The starting shot for the actual beginning of male puberty is given in the brain by an increased release of hormones, which in turn stimulate the production of sex hormones. Among other things, they ensure that sperm cells are formed in the testicles.

But isn't there a phase in which the testosterone level shoots up? At the age of three to six it increases "rapidly", writes the pedagogue Heidemarie Brosche in her new book "Jungs-Mamas" (Kösel Verlag 2019), which is well worth reading.

She's not the only one claiming that: You can find this statement on many Internet sites and in other advice books. In their book “Loud Strong Boys”, Jan-Uwe Rogge and Bettina Mähler claimed as early as 1998 that the testosterone level rose again in little boys from the age of 36 months. Also in the much-read book “Boys! - How they grow up happily "by Steve Biddulph, which was published in German in 2002, contains this statement:" At the age of four, for reasons that nobody really understands, the testosterone level of young boys suddenly doubles again. "

No wonder that nobody really understands the reasons - because the statement is not true. "I don't know where this rumor came from, but it is completely fake," says hormone specialist Blankenstein. The authors do not name any sources for their assertion. A typical case of “fake news”. “A modern old wives' tale,” says Blankenstein.

Data from a large Canadian study, for which the hormone levels of 1234 adolescents between the ages of zero and 18 were measured, prove: After the first half of life, boys also experience a testosterone lull until puberty. Testosterone levels are close to zero throughout this major phase of childhood.

However, there are differences in the development of boys and girls

If it increases significantly in a young boy at this age, parents and paediatricians are worried because it could be a hormone-producing tumor: The boys then show signs of puberty prematurely, such as pubic hair or a deeper voice. A sign that something is wrong.

“Otherwise, at this age, you won't find a testosterone increase in children, but only on the Internet,” says Blankenstein. The pediatrician is not least surprised that the alleged hormone storm is expected to occur at three to four years of age - an age at which children have long since been able to “sort” people into men and women, but still like to play in mixed groups. And in which not only boys often have a "defiant phase", but also girls.

This does not mean that the biological gender of the children plays no role in their development and behavior. For example, female premature babies have better chances of survival, four-year-old girls are - on average - more fine motor skills and more advanced in language development, whereas boys - again on average - somewhat better in spatial imagination and in their games are more interested in physical strength testing.

Does a hormone surge slow down brain development?

For the biological explanation of such (statistical) differences, however, the different chromosome sets (XX for girls, YX for boys) and the sex hormones that are effective very early in the mother's womb can be used.

In fact, there are some differences in brain development between the sexes. Even at birth, their anatomy and function are different. "That may well have something to do with the amount of testosterone in the amniotic fluid," says Blankenstein.

The American neurobiologist and author Lise Eliot suspects in her book “How different are they? The brain development in girls and boys ”(Berlin Verlag 2010) based on animal studies that it is also the hormonal surge immediately after birth that slows down the development of boys' brains slightly. However, this has not been proven.

Something else is all the more clear to the neuroscientist: "In a world that sees a baby first and foremost as a girl or a boy, gender differences, however subtle they may initially be, intensify very quickly."

Whether such reinforcement is desirable or, conversely, whether one should ensure that it does not occur is another matter. It depends on us. "Children learn on the model," says pediatrician Blankenstein. And he adds: "Your role behavior changes and changes again and again."

How it went on that Friday evening in front of the Schöneberg pizzeria is no old wives' tale: Half an hour later a smaller group of girls and boys continued to paint devotedly on the pavement, the long jump competition was over. The painting came to an abrupt end when the waiter appeared again. There was ice cream for dessert.

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