The title of this book offers a cogent summary of the purpose of the book. The author is concerned that today’s boys seem less motivated than those of the previous generation. Boys are also doing worse in school than girls. Fewer boys are graduating and going to college.
Why is this?
I gravitated toward this book because I have two boys in my house, a 5th grader and a kindergartener. I want, like most parents, for my boys to care about God, school, and their career choices. As I read this book, I saw the attitudes of my boys reflected in the pages and theories.
Dr. Leonard Sax is a family physician and psychologist and has written previous works on gender differences. He is also founder of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education. He has a complementary book to Boys Adrift called Girls on the Edge.
On his website, the author mentions why he wrote these books:
“a growing proportion of girls who are anxious, depressed, and tired; girls who can tell you a great deal about what they do but not so much about who they are. Likewise, we find a growing proportion of boys who are disengaged not only from school but from the real world. Those boys are comfortable in the virtual world, where they play their online video games, and/or surf the net for photographs of girls.”
The author strongly believes educational systems have shifted to favor girls and speak to their temperament. At times, this book feels like a proof-text for theories on education.
Other works and psychological research studies are heavily cited in the book. There are 30 pages of notes at the back of the book. I felt like I was reading a clinical book at first, but the book gained momentum and the five factors captivated me.
The author approaches the subject from a secular worldview, but no part of the book seemed anti-biblical, anti-Christian, or anti-family.
The Five Factors
What are some chief causes for unmotivated and underachieving boys? The author attempts to answer this question with a five-fold framework:
- Changes at school
- Video games
- Medications for ADHD
- Endocrine disruptors
- Cultural shifts and lack of sufficient role models
Who or What Do We Blame?
The author is quick to say there is no one factor causing the shift in boys. He warns us not to generalize or simplify the problem, but look to at a multiplicity of reasons and major shifts in society over the last 30 years.
Changes at School
This might be the strongest chapter in the book. The author notes that in today’s classrooms, educators are teaching in ways that appeal more to young girls, rather than young boys. Here are a few that stood out:
Today’s kindergarten equals yesterday’s first grade. More focus is given to reading and writing than drawing, painting, playing, dancing and singing (16). Girls tend to pick up reading and writing quicker. Young boys need more hands-on activities and may be entering kindergarten underdeveloped. The author believes some boys should wait another year before entering kindergarten.
Young boys are desperate for hands-on learning experiences. They respond better to movement, role play, kinetic activities and sports. Hands-on learning is being replaced in today’s schools by sitting still, listening, being quiet, reading and writing. I was surprised when the author pointed out that the computer is not a kinetic activity. Computers exercise the reading and writing centers in our brain. (29)
Team competition is being removed from our schools. Some boys thrive in competitive atmospheres, even if they often lose. They need tangible challenges. Competition and competitive sports teach boys to value something higher than themselves. (45-46)
Today’s classrooms reward learning experiences and disciplines that are easier for girls. Girls develop their reading and writing skills faster than boys. Girls value friendship over competition. Quiet, stillness, and sitting are rewarded in classrooms, disciplines that are easier for girls to develop. The author believes today’s education is frankly, more feminine than it was 30 years ago. He believes this shift has led to higher percentages of women graduating from high school and going to college.
The author believes parents should exercise strong control over video games. They tend to teach the wrong lessons about masculinity:
- I can be the tough guy because I’m in charge
- I can move on to another universe
- I can start over again if things are going bad for me
- I am the center of control and power
Video games train boys to be disconnected with the world, with reality and empower them to create their own world. Video games displace exercise, socialization, and competitive sports. They train our boys to be sedentary, unsocial and self-absorbed.
I believe the book should have also addressed the influence of the Internet and social media, but the same wrong lessons and disconnect apply.
ADHD: Overdiagnosing and Overmedicating
Doctors and even teachers are quick to label a child with ADHD if they are not focused in class. Prescribed drugs are more common than ever. It’s easier to say a child is off balance physiologically than to suggest that the child needs to be better parented by mom and dad, or try a different school environment. The author believes some children can be helped with medication, but ADHD cannot be seen as a sole reason for unmotivated kids. He also believes parents should develop fresh parenting skills and methods of disciplining children – different methods for different kids.
Culture & Role Models
“Where are the healthy role models in today’s time?” might be a good summary of this chapter. Fewer young boys are connecting with their fathers in a positive way. Fathers are not the leaders in today’s households, and frankly, many dads are effeminate and passive. Boys fill this vacuum with mother figures (at home, in school, in church, etc.). The role models from sports, TV, and movies boys are looking toward are largely dysfunctional. In many cases, boys don’t know what a healthy man looks like.
Endocrine Disruptors (this one left me scratching my head)
This chapter was bizarre. The author introduces us to endocrine disruptors, “substances that mimic the actions of hormones, specifically female hormones.” (100)
“There’s growing evidence that exposure to synthetic chemicals may disrupt or slow puberty in boys – and only in boys.” (105)
Translation: the plastics that we expose our children to introduce small amounts of female hormones that cause boys to develop slower and girls to develop faster.
The author contends the plastic baby bottles, pacifiers, bottled water, drinking cups and bowls are a factor in our boys becoming underdeveloped. He cites scientific studies that show a correlation to obesity underdeveloped penises in boys.
I was challenged by this book and I am making small changes to my parenting style and looking at my boy’s education with a different eye (especially my 5-year old – the strong-willed one).
If the five factors fascinate you, and this review whets your appetite, pick up Boys Adrift. It will make you think.
If you are militant about the dangers of plastics, this will be your “must read” of the year!