September 2011 - Vol. 52
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:
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