Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
Reviewed by Timothy Anger, M.S.
Recently I read “Boys Adrift” – a book by Dr. Leonard Sax, a pediatrician and psychologist in Exton, Pennsylvania. As a result of writing the book, he is now a speaker in very high demand around the United States and the world.
This book explores the phenomenon of a generation of boys and young men who are reaching adulthood but with no motivation to move out of their parents’ house, be successful, get married, and just “launch” into masculine adulthood. A related problem is the much higher incidence of ADHD, autism, and other disorders that affect boys disproportionately.
As a high school teacher and principal for 30 years now, I read Dr. Sax’s book with great interest and appreciation! He is not a theoretician, but has been “in the trenches” making first-hand observations through years of medical practice. He has coupled that with applicable scientific research that points to five conclusions that may not be “Politically Correct” — nor easily adopted in our public school system — but resonate for sure!
The five factors he has identified are as follows:
1. Changes at school – kindergarteners are being pushed to read earlier than most boys are ready; classrooms are run by female teachers who don’t understand how boys learn differently; boys need much more “hands-on” and outdoor learning; boys need competition. Some great observations and recommendations made in this chapter!
2. Video games – in the past 30 years video computer games have become much more graphic and addicting to teen boys, primarily because boys like to be in charge and games allow them to do that. Dr. Sax puts to rest the myth that games make boys smarter and uses research and examples to demonstrate that video games instead contribute to anti-social behavior, violence, aggression, and withdrawal from real-life (particularly boring school subjects!). The frequent inclusion of crime, first-person-shooter murder, and pornography also draw teen boys in but warps their attitudes and thinking at a very crucial time period in their moral development.
3. ADHD Medications – many boys are being prescribed a variety of prescription drugs to help them focus, with the rationale that if it helps then it must be good. But Dr. Sax shows how that myth has led to serious side-effects and very real changes in the brain chemistry and function of many boys and young men. Interestingly, computer games can similarly disrupt the brain’s normal structure and function. Very enlightening chapter with some good practical advice.
4. Endocrine disruptors – this was Dr. Sax’s first line of research and his scholarly reporting of current research was convincing and alarming at the same time. I had NO idea that the chemicals used in virtually all household plastics and many pesticides are actually synthetic female hormones and as they are leached into the foods and products we consume their hormonal qualities are changing boys to be more feminized. This is especially dangerous when high concentrations are in a mother’s body while she carries a developing son in her womb! After reading this chapter I did some online reading and watching of documentaries on my own which confirmed what I had read – and informed me about environmental concerns that I had ignored as “whacko” before.
5. Devaluation of Masculinity – Dr. Sax points out that fathers, and men in general, are not respected and valued in today’s pop culture and upholds “The Simpson Family” as a prime example of that attitude. Boys today are disengaged from men – even their own fathers – and are immersed in a culture that does not honor, respect, and uphold the value of true masculinity. Instead a “unisex” mentality is uplifted, and women communicate that they don’t need men. Young men in turn immerse themselves in pornography, self-indulgence, and selfish pursuits and determine they don’t need women. As a result they never pursue what has been the foundational goal of men in society – marrying and supporting a wife and raising children. Dr. Sax’s other books emphasize the value of recognizing the differences between male and female and emphasizing those, not ignoring them. One of his main recommendations throughout the book is to have Boys Only Schools and Girls Only Schools – especially at the high school level. He also gives some other good recommendations in this chapter.
His final chapters make some recommendations that would be difficult to implement in a public school setting. Being a Christian school principal and parent of five, in a strong church setting that is supportive of homeschooling families, I can see how almost all of his recommendations for preparing boys for successful launch into life can be implemented.
If this book were written by a Christian author in tune with today’s culture there would be a sixth factor emphasized even more – the dangerous effects of pornography so prevalent today. And a seventh factor might be about how the acceptance of homosexuality in our culture is undermining masculinity and the institution of a strong family unit with mom and dad. Could it be that boys are being feminized by endocrine disruptors, and confused by the mass cultural acceptance of the gay lifestyle, and then are lured away from traditional male roles into homosexuality? That premise is too politically volatile for Dr. Sax to address, but is not far-fetched.
Another chapter that would be included if written by a Christian author would be about casting a vision for boys as they develop into manhood to find God’s will for why He placed them on this planet and then fulfill that purpose. Ministry to others through their local church would certainly be part of that life purpose, as would marrying a godly woman and raising up children for the furtherance of the kingdom.
My summary of his points doesn’t do justice to his premise. Please READ THE BOOK — your thinking and understanding will be changed and you will be motivated to make what changes you can for the benefit of the upcoming generations of boys. I plan to buy several copies to give to families in my realm of influence! Thankfully, in the small school where I work, and through our church, we can implement many of his recommendations. After reading this book I feel motivated and empowered to do just that!
I was encouraged that so many of the points I make in my article, “Tim’s Top Ten Tips for Teaching Teen Testosterone,” were validated by Dr. Sax’s recommendations.