September 2011 - Vol. 52



Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men 

by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

2007, 2009 © Basic BooksRegained: Biblical Basics foional Worldview,rt M. Woltrs, 
William B. Eerdmans, , Second 

French Alps by Nico Angleys

Boys Adrift reviewed by Jerry Munk

Recently I read the book, Boys Adrift: the Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated boys and Underachieving Young Men, by Dr. Leonard Sax. The book deals with a growing problem here in America (and many Western societies): a substantial percentage of young men are reaching their twenties without the drive necessary to take on adult life and adult responsibilities. What is happening? Is it society? Is it family? Is it the environment? Good questions all, and Boys Adrift attempts to answer them. Dr. Sax paints the picture of a “perfect storm” for boys today.  He offers five reasons why we are seeing more under-motivated boys and offers several things that parents can do to address the situation. Allow me to present a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of the book.

Factor 1, Schools. Dr. Sax argues that recent changes to school curriculums create an environment that disengages most boys. Making kindergarten an academic experience, rather than a socializing one, is developmentally inappropriate for 5-year-old boys. Some boys are quick to see school as boring and stupid. They may disengage in kindergarten and never re-engage. Sax recommends (at the very least) holding boys back a year, but he also recommends single-sex schools, giving boys more hands on, real-world (nature not computer) experiences, and incorporating the element of team competition into education.

Factor 2, Video Games. Dr. Sax expresses concern about the violence and sexuality associated with video games, but he also cites research that video games can change brain development in profound ways: effectively isolating motivation from human activity and shutting it down. This dynamic (isolating and depressing motivation from human activity) is an end result of several factors discussed by Dr. Sax. We end up with boys who have little or no motivation to take on adult life and responsibilities.

Factor 3, ADHD Medications. Because schools are becoming less developmentally appropriate for boys, distracted boys are increasingly likely to be medicated. Only a small percentage of boys medicated actually have ADHD, Sax says, but boys are medicated to make them  fit better into a developmentally inappropriate environment. Many of these medications work (i.e., they do help boys fit into a developmentally inappropriate environment) in the short term, but they have a side effect that is just beginning to be understood: these drugs appear to isolate and depress motivation.  This side effect can develop after a short time on the medication, but its impact can be lifelong. 

Factor 4, Endocrine Disruptors. There is growing evidence, Dr. Sax says, that chemicals in the environment tend to physically feminize boys. One source of these chemicals (among many) is plastic packaging commonly used for bottled water, carbonated drinks, and food. The links are not absolutely clear, but there is growing evidence that these chemicals are responsible for girls reaching puberty earlier, and boys later. There is also evidence that these chemicals work to isolate and depress motivation in boys.

Factor 5, Revenge of Forsaken Gods. In this interestingly-titled chapter, Dr. Sax discusses (among other things) how the breakdown of male community impacts boys. Becoming a man (as opposed to reaching physical maturity) is learned from other men. Boys fail to become men because there is no community of men in their lives who teach them to become men. Sax focuses more on community structures, but the breakdown of family and absentee fathers is also mentioned.

What do I recommend? 

I recommend that people read Boys Adrift. It is available at most book stores and on-line from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I should be clear, this is not a “Christian” book and I do not necessarily agree with every point Sax makes in it. Even so, this is an important read for parents of boys, for pastoral leaders working with parents of boys, and for youth leaders as well. The book lays out a discussion which I think parents and pastorals leaders need to have if we want to effectively counter this drift and help our young men grow in character and maturity.
I also recommend the following:
  1. Parents may want to consider delaying school for their boys. A later start can help boys better plug into an academic environment and thereby avoid the suggestion of medication to treat ADHD.  There are many pressures to start school early; Sax makes a compelling argument for starting a little later. Parents who home school will find valuable information in this book (and in Sax’s previous book, Gender Matters) about how boys learn differently than girls do and how important it is for boys to see, touch, and feel the real world. 
  2. In the Sword of the Spirit’s Christian Parenting course we strongly encourage parents to limit computer, video game, and TV use. Sinful and worldly content is one problem, the wasted time is another. Sax’s discussion of how video games depress motivation highlights another warning signal. I have talked to several community parents who have read Sax’s book, and now wish they had  been more diligent in this area with their children who have now grown up and these parents already tended to be on the strict side.
  3. Parents should be cautious about putting their boys on ADHD medications. Many doctors will advise, “Let’s try it and see if it helps.” It probably will help, but that’s not the question. The real question is this: Does the boy have ADHD? There are tests for ADHD, but they can be expensive and time consuming. If, however, parents better understood the down side (their sons becoming unmotivated adults) they may be more inclined to look at other ways of dealing with easily distracted boys.
  4. The science is not exactly clear just yet, but the evidence Sax presents makes me concerned about endocrine disruptors in the environment. At the very least, I would avoid giving my children drinks in plastic bottles, and I would have a long talk with my local water provider. I would also consider changes in diet and lifestyle that limit exposure. 
  5. Here in the Work of Christ, our community, we have a Cub Scout group, summer camp, prayer meetings for grade-school boys, and a boys group for our middle-school boys that helps them experience the society of godly men. More and more of our (North American) regional middle school and high school programs are having gender segregated activities, as well. It seems that we are pointed in the right direction, but I am sure there are more things we should be doing. Our Christian Parenting course encourages dads to take the lead in the spiritual life of their family and the formation of their sons. There are many good reasons for fathers to do this (like the Bible commanding you to do so in Ephesians 6:4); Sax provides another good reason helping young boys grow into men.
What others are saying about Boys Adrift  
“Boys Adrift is a must-read for any parent of boys. This is real science, and Dr. Sax thoroughly uncovers the important health issues that parents of boys need to be tuned into.”
– Dr. Mehmet Oz, Professor and Vice Chairman, New York Presbyterian Hospital, Columbia University
“Excellent and informative references and information are provided . . . Powerfully and persuasively presented.”
– The Journal of the American Medical Association
“Startling . . . like a brick thrown through your window.”
– Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Jerry Munk is a regional coordinator in the Sword of the Spirit, and co-author of Becoming Transgenerational—Kairos, For Such a Time As This (available at 

He and his wife, Jan, have three adult children, all of whom are active in the Sword of the Spirit.

(c) copyright 2011  The Sword of the Spirit
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom