04 August 2015
Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax
"It's a horror story," I replied.
"Boys Adrift" by Leonard Sax is a study into the growing problem of unmotivated teenage boys who grow up to be underachieving young men who fail to launch, have no aspirations and aren't interested in leading functional, productive lives. Sounds like a fun holiday read? Well, it wasn't that much fun to read really. But terror turned to thinking and discussing as soon as I had read the last page and I continue to ponder the issues.
Sax looks at five areas that he thinks is contributing to the problem of boys adrift.
1. An education system that doesn't suit boys.
2. Computer games. (The book was written in 2009. I think you could safely broaden this out to cyber addiction in general, although there are some specifics attached to gaming.)
3. The effects of medications prescribed for ADHD.
4. Changes to the male body wrought by modern life - chemicals, plastics and so on. The evidence Sax has collected suggests that the male body is affected more than the female body.
5. A bundle of things including a growing shortage of good male role models, a devaluation of masculinity, no real rites of passage for boys coupled with too many trophies along the way and parental failure to show a little tough love (like mothers still doing the washing for their 30-somethings who still live at home).
He provides a very in depth study into each of these areas and all five stand independent of each other. That is, one is not the cause of another.
I really like this book because it reads real. It's not all neat and tidy. The author doesn't present each problem and then offer a five point plan on how to fix it. There are some solutions and ideas along the way but this is very much a work in progress and he is really just raising flags.
What is terrifying then is that in some instances there are no solutions, not for an individual family anyway. Some of the problems raised are systemic issues that are just too big, and so in some senses the solutions lie in working out how to live, work and problem solve alongside these issues that aren't going away anytime soon.
While he did suggest on at least a couple of occasions that some of the issues or consequences reaped were beyond solving, I think it's worth noting that since 2009 there has been huge research done on brain plasticity. More things are reversible than we previously ever imagined. It would be interesting to see how his thinking has developed. And as a Christian and without being all silly about it, I believe that there is plenty that we can change through a growing, maturing, prayferful faith. Granted, Sax is not writing this study from a Christian perspective.
Anyway, not a fun book but an important one I think. It is written thoughtfully and soberly. Sax has not set out to give anyone nightmares. This is all about education and awareness. I thought it was helpful. Who else might find it useful? Parents of boys. Teachers. Youth group leaders and folk in university ministry. Observers of rapid sociological change.
Now, I'm off to teach a couple of boys to use the washing machine. :-) Nah, just kidding. I'm off to make a cup of tea.