In Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax identifies five factors in our contemporary culture that are driving the Extended Adolescence (EA) phenomenon:
- Changes at School (especially Kindergarten)
- Video Games (particularly immersive, achievement-based games)
- Medications for ADHD (especially as they’re often wantonly prescribed)
- Endocrine Disruptors (especially BPAs found in many plastics)
- Loss of Clear Gender Roles and Manhood Rituals
Whether you agree completely with Sax’s analysis or not, Boys Adrift is well worth your time. Challenging, provocative and well-written, Sax moves the discussion on EA forward instead of trying to rewind the clock as many Christian analysts are trying to do.
The net result of EA in American culture is that more and more young men have become – in Sax’s words “parasites” in the homes of their wives or parents.
I took four major focus areas away from the book:
1. Fix our schools. The sooner the better.
Sax is far from the only person clamoring for education reform. (Sir Ken Robinson and Seth Godin also deserve our attention, for instance.)
We educate kids based on a factory model that assumes kids the same age are all the same. It assumes that earlier/sooner is better. And that everyone learns the same way. All of these assumptions are totally wrong.
But is school changing? Nope. It’s same ole, same ole.
Instead, we medicate kids so they’ll fit in. We break kids so they’ll fit into a broken system.
Home-schooling isn’t the answer; neither are private schools that most people can’t afford. We need a wholesale rethinking of our public education system.
Watch this video. It’s Sir Ken Robinson on our education system. It’ll be the best 10 minutes you invest today.
2. Learn How to Fail Well.
A hallmark of EA is a lack of ambition and contribution – the parasitic behavior Sax identifies. Sax attributes this to video games, ADHD meds and BPAs. His arguments for each of these factors is compelling, and he has the research to back up his claims.
But I think these feed a more basic problem: as a culture don’t know how to fail.
I happen to love video games. And I love blogging and tweeting and Facebook. But I’m old enough to know the difference between the real world of people and the virtual world of the internet. I know that while virtual connections are nice, they can’t replace embodied community. And I know that no matter how fun it is to 100% a game, that’s not a real accomplishment.
But I grew up in a different world than boys today. Video games today are way more immersive than they used to be. More achievement-oriented. And so much more prevalent. When I was a teen, I really did mostly just want to play video games. And my parents were very strict about how much I was allowed to game. In hindsight, this was very good for me.
Parents need to be more cautious than ever in choosing the kinds of games their kids play. But parents need to monitor the amount of time as well.
Among other things, this means parents must resist the easy babysitting television and video games offer. Why? Because video games are crazy fun. They’re designed to make us want to play them. Kids aren’t particularly good at drawing healthy boundaries. That’s one thing adults are supposed to teach kids, and electronics are an oft-neglected area where kids need clear and consistently-enforced boundaries.
If not, especially boys will flee from failure in the real world to virtual achievement. The sense of accomplishment video games offer us can easily fill a need meant to be filled by real-world accomplishment. It’s way easier to beat a video game than to win in the real world a lot of the time. Video games can easily become a haven for a boy who struggles to succeed in the real world – at work, school, sports, etc.
The problem’s not just with video games. Sax notes that the rise of pornography has enabled many men to avoid real relationships. This is an outgrowth of the same problem: the virtual woman is easier to “succeed” with, just as a video game is easier to conquer than the real world.
Too many young men are choosing the path of least resistance: success in the virtual world (whether through video games or pornography).
Boys have to learn to fail well in the real world. No one in our culture is good at this (except, notably, for the most successful among us). But boys have to learn not to run from failure. Instead, we should face it head-on, learn from it, and get back up.
Whether it’s in a relationship, a job interview, at school, sports or anything else, we have to learn not to run to the ease and safety of the virtual world.
Ultimately, both of these reactions are about creating environments that are best for kids to flourish. Not what’s easiest for the teacher or the parent. Not what the kid wants (since when have kids had a clue what’s best for them?).
The next post will conclude with my final two reactions to Boys Adrift. For now…