Boys Adrift: The 5 Crucial Things Parents & Teachers Need to Know about the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
After reading the book “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men” by Family Physician Dr. Leonard Sax, who is also a Research Psychologist, I felt compelled to share this information with parents and teachers. Dr Sax has done extensive research around the globe and has connected with thousands of parents, teachers and boys and girls, in his practice and through his speaking engagements. He has spent more than 7 years investigating the current situation of boys and young men, and diving deep to find the foundational issues causing this situation and what we can do to turn it around.
I highly recommend that all parents, teachers, school administrators, youth leaders read “Boys Adrift”. I will attempt to provide a brief overview of the main points and the actions Dr Sax recommends. Click Here to Buy it Now.
First Chapter – The Riddle
Don’t believe we have a problem? Examine these curious statistics and trends:
- Over the past 50 years college campuses have been changing. Back in 1949 70% of the students were male and this percent has dropped every decade – in 2006 42% of the students were male. And for the boys who do attend college the results are surprising – Most girls who enroll in a 4 year college will earn a degree – most boys won’t!
- Education has changed over the past 40 years and these changes have disengaged a growing proportion of boys from school. More boys are becoming disengaged from school and life. Dr Sax is most concerned about boys that don’t just disdain school because they have other real-world activities they care about more – they disdain school because they disdain everything. Nothing really excites them. Even more concerning is the fact that so many of these boys seem to regard their laid-back, couldn’t care less attitude as being quintessentially male. This trend is across all income levels.
- The chemicals and plastics in our food and water may be emasculating boys. The average young man today has a sperm count less than half what his grandfather had at the same age. A young boy today has bones that are significantly more brittle than a boy of the same age 30 years ago. There appears to be a connection to the drop in sperm count and bone density.
- Video games disengage kids from the real world, and hurt motivation and increase violent behaviour. Boys are more likely to be addicted to video games than girls.
- The growing tendency to prescribe medications such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, Metadate, Focalin, Dexedrine and other stimulants to American children, particularly boys, may have an adverse consequence that the doctors may not know about – the most serious cost of taking these medications may be a loss of drive – including pursuing a real world goal or sustaining a romantic relationship.
Chapter 2: The First Factor – The 2 Major Changes at School
First Change: Kindergarten Isn’t Kindergarten Anymore
Kindergarten has become 1st Grade. In 2007 the kindergarten curriculum at most North American schools looked very much like the 1st Grade curriculum of 1977. Nowadays, it is all about learning to read and write.
Why is that a problem?
Neuroscientists at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in Maryland, have been doing MRI scans on the brains of young children to watch the brain develop from age 4 to 22. The results: boys and girls brains develop differently and at different speeds. The language areas of the brain in 5 year old boys look like the language areas of the brain of the average 3.5 year old girl. Have you ever tried to teach a 3.5 year old girl to read? It is frustrating for both the teacher and the girl. It is not developmentally appropriate. You are asking her to do something that her brain is just not yet ready to do. Teaching a 5 year old boy to read and write may just be as inappropriate as it would be to try and teach a 3.5 year girl to read and write. Timing is everything and children have to have brains that are ready to learn. Asking a 5 year to learn to read when they would rather be running and playing, may be the worst possible introduction to school for some boys. With the conclusion of the boy at the end of Kindergarten that school is “dumb” and the “teacher doesn’t like me because I don’t read and write as well as the girls do” sets him up for a negative attitude as he enters Grade 1 and the process continues.
Ironically, the USA spends more money per pupil than most other developed countries and yet accomplishes less. USA ranks at #25, well below countries whose spending is much lower. Finland is #1 of international rankings and surprisingly the main difference of education in Finland compared to the USA? Very simple: Children don’t begin any formal school until they are 7 years old. By the time Finnish children are teenagers, they are beating American children by large margins on the same test.
How is this possible?
How could starting kids in school 2 years later lead to superior performance when they become teenagers? The answer: If kids start school when they are developmentally prepared to learn, they are less likely to hate school. If they don’t hate it, then it is easier to get them to learn. If kids do hate school, as many American boys do, then the teacher is starting out with a major handicap before even stepping into the classroom.
Summary of the First Change:
Many 5 year old girls are able to do what the Kindergarten teacher wants them to do. They can sit still. They can be quiet and they likely have the fine motor skills required to write the letters of the alphabet legibly and neatly.
Waiting until 7 years of age to begin the formal reading and writing curriculum of today’s kindergarten might reduce a significant number of the problems that we see with boys and school. For many boys, there is a huge difference in readiness to learn between age 5 and 7 – just as there is a huge difference in readiness for a girl between 3 and 5.
The pace of education has accelerated, but boys’ brains don’t grow any faster now than they did 30 years ago.
Second Change: Knowledge Learned from Books or the Computer vs the Knowledge Gained through Experience
In English we have only 1 word for the verb “To Know” but it has 2 meanings. In other languages there are 2 words for the 2 meanings.
Book knowledge is different than experience.
There is a difference between the knowledge that you learn from a book vs what you learn from an experience. For example it is the difference between what a person reads about what it means to be hungry – compared to the person who has experienced hunger for many days or weeks and has not read a book about it. The second knowing is a knowing within your body and your experience.
There is a fundamental belief running through all European pedagogy that both Wissenschaft and Kenntnis are valuable, and that the two ways of knowing must be balanced.
Dr Sax got to experience Kenntnis. He accompanied a class of Swiss 3rd graders on a field trip through the forest. The teacher divided the children into partners and one child was blindfolded. The blindfolded child was led to a tree by their partner, and was instructed to feel the tree with their hands and to smell it. Then the blindfolded child has spun around and led away from the tree at least 10 paces. Then the blindfold was removed and the child was asked, “Which tree were you just feeling?”
Multisensory interaction with the real world helps a child’s brain develop properly
Dr Sax also had the experience of being blindfolded by the teacher and she led him to a tree, where he had to touch it and smell it without being able to see it. Then the teacher led Dr Sax 10 paces away and turned him around and asked “Where is your tree?” He looked, and immediately recognized his tree from the dozens of others. He found it an unfamiliar, but exhilarating experience. In America, kids go on field trips but the learning is all “Wissenschaft” – learning the difference between an oak leaf and a maple leaf.
There is more than 50 years of research on the importance for child development through multisensory interaction with the real world – including touching, smelling, seeing, hearing – for the child’s brain to develop properly. For boys in particular, emphasizing Wissenschaft while ignoring Kenntnis may seriously impair development. Research demonstrates that when there is a profound imbalance in a child’s early experiences – when nature has been replaced by computer screens and fancy indoor toys – the result is an increased risk for attention deficit disorder.
A study showed that children who had access to playing outside in nature and trees and a garden had better motor coordination and more ability to concentrate.
All children need a balance of Wissenschaft and Kenntnis, a balance between sitting and standing, classroom work and field trips. But if girls are deprived of that balance, they will still do the homework because for girls pleasing the teacher is a significant reward in itself. Not so for most boys. If boys are deprived of that balance, they may simply disengage from school. If you ask a boy to read about the life cycle of a frog but never let him touch a frog he may not see the point.
What motivates Girls and Boys?
For Girls – Pleasing the teacher and adults. They value friendship over team affiliation.
For Boys – impressing their fellow friends. Good natured competition between boys, builds their friendship. They value being on a team.
We now know that self-esteem has a value for girls that it simply doesn’t have for many boys, while competition, particularly team competition- has a value for many boys that it doesn’t have for most girls. Some boys need the challenge and the risk of competition to care about the results. Parents and teachers who don’t understand that fact may actually disengage boys from school.
The Right Kind of Competition to Engage Boys
The competitive team format might engage and motivate boys who otherwise wouldn’t be inspired to do their homework or read.
Traditional Physical Education offers many opportunities for boys to experience the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat even if it is only a game of dodgeball. Unfortunately, many schools have eliminated these types of games because it is believed that it rewards violence.
Chapter 3: The Second Factor – Video Games
Boys are more prone to video addiction than girls
Video games have displaced a major activity in the lives of teenage boys - playing outdoors.
The world of Video games can be more real to young boys than the real world is. There are many boys that could be good students but don’t seem motivated in school but they can stay up until 2 in the morning getting to the next level in SpyHunter.
The “Will to Power” is the need of an individual to be in charge of their environment. Video games allow boys to be in charge of their environment. Girls are not as motivated by this because they are more motivated to be well-liked or well thought of and being in charge ranks lower for girls. Boys falling into the video addiction trap often secretly believe that they are special and that the rules that apply to ordinary people don’t apply to them. They do not expect other people including their parents, to understand them. Video games offer a quick and easy fix for boys. It gives them the feelings of power and control that they crave. Although it is just a game, they play with seriousness.
The average teenage boy today spends more than 13 hours a week playing video games, compared to 5 hours per week for the average teenage girl.
A series of studies over the past 7 years has demonstrated clearly that the more time your child spends playing video games, the less likely he is to do well in school, whether he is in elementary, middle or high school or college.
Research shows that playing violent video games leads directly to aggressive behaviour and antisocial behaviour. Playing violent video games has a more toxic effect than watching equally violent television. The destructive effects of video games are not on boy’s cognitive abilities, but on their motivation and their connectedness with the real world.
What Rules should you have for your son regarding video games?
1. No more than 40 minutes a day on school days, and 1 hour a day on other days – and that is only after homework and chores are completed
2. Make sure your son knows where his priorities should be:
- 1. Family first
- 2. School second
- 3. Friends third
- 4. Video games last
Watch and play the games with your son and then ask yourself these questions:
1. Does the game involve some characters trying to harm others?
2. Does this happen frequently, more than once or twice in 30 minutes?
3. Is the harm rewarded in any way?
4. Is the harm portrayed as humorous?
5. Are nonviolent solutions absent or less “fun” than the violent ones?
6. Are realistic consequences of violence absent from the game?
If you answer yes to 2 or more, than your son should not be playing this game.
Boys addicted to video games are less interested in girls and having a relationship. They prefer video interaction to human interaction. They prefer their fantasy world to the real world because in the real world things are not so easy to control.
How to provide the experience of “Will to Power” for boys so that they don’t need video games?
- Find constructive outlets for your son such as competitive sports and a more competitive academic format such as team competitions. Real world experiences help boys see the difference between reality and the fantasy of the video world. For example, real football practice and games compared to the experience of video football.
Chapter 4: The Third Factor – Medications for ADHD
With so many boys disengaged from school, they are sent to the doctors for drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. These drugs help boys concentrate but they also have negative side effects including:
1. Not growing as tall as other boys.
2. As they become older, they become unmotivated and have lack of drive.
3. The drugs damage an area of the developing brain responsible for translating motivation into action.
There has been an explosion in the prescribing of medication for very young children, particularly preschoolers and kindergartners. Children in the US are 3 times more likely to be taking these drugs compared with children in European countries. Often children are taking 3 and 4 medications including Adderall for ADHD, clonidine to control outbursts and Prozac to stabilize moods.
Medication is quick and easy and makes a child less fidgety and more attentive. But these medications may damage a crucial area of the brain responsible for drive and motivation. Although medicated children may make the teacher’s job easier, it may not be in the best interest of the child.
Dr Sax goes into detail about how you can assess whether your child really has ADHD and all of the 5 official criteria for diagnosing ADHD. Please review Chapter 8: Detox in his book “Boys Adrift”.
Chapter 5: The Fourth Factor – Endocrine Disruptors
Scientists studying fish are finding that female fish are normal but males are not – they were found with eggs instead of sperm. They have also found that male alligators in central Florida have been through an emasculation process due to phthalates.
Clear plastic bottles, have phthalates and they act as Endocrine Disruptors causing girls to hit puberty at much younger ages and causing a disruption and a delayed puberty in boys. There is a link between these chemicals and how it may be causing ADHD in children. Boys rely on testosterone to fuel their drive to achieve and be successful in all activities. There has been a decline in the sperm count over the past fifty years and with the lower testosterone levels in boys, their bones are more brittle than the bones of young men a generation ago and the number of boys that have broken a bone by age 15 has doubled between 1960 and 1990.
Dr Sax recommends:
- Look for products that are PVC free
- Don’t microwave food in plastic containers. Use glass.
- Avoid plastic bottles. Use glass instead.
Chapter 7: The Fifth Factor – Loss of Positive Role Models
There are a lack of positive male, father figures or adult figures in the media. In the past we had “Father Knows Best”, “My Three Sons”, and “The Cosby Show”. Now we have Homer Simpson and Married with Children. The popular image of the American father has been transformed from a wise patriarch to bumbling buffoon. Forty years ago when boys were told “to grow up” they knew what that meant. Today they don’t.
A boy is likely to become the kind of man that he sees around him. He needs role models of healthy masculinity. Sign him up for activities that involve nature, outdoors, Boy Scouts, etc so that he can interact with other grown men.
How Can We Learn from this Research that Dr Sax has Completed and Apply it to Our Kids Yoga Classes?
- Consider having all boy Yoga classes.
- Allow for a “team approach” for the boys to feel motivated.
- Allow for some healthy competition.
- Allow boys to feel accepted for who they are (active) rather than criticized for not being like girls (quiet, sitting still).
- Have vigorous activity at the beginning of the session to help “manage the wiggles”.
- Teach boys what it means to be a Man – a good winner, being of service to your community, a team player.
- Serve drinks and snacks in non-plastic containers and bottles.
- Make Yoga fun and engaging so that boys stay engaged and less interested in video games.
- Teach boys how video games can negatively impact them and how to increase good feelings in the mind that are healthy. This will help to reduce depression in boys.
- Find positive role models in the media and discuss what it means to be a good person or leader.
- Get trained in how to engage boys in Yoga classes.
Take our Kids Yoga Teacher Training module “Inclusive Yoga“.
This training focuses on the special needs of boys, and how to engage them in yoga.
Learn more and Register at: http://childrensyogabooks.com/training-inclusive-yoga.php
Janet Williams, B.Ed, RCYT is a certified Primary/Junior Teacher, Yoga Instructor and Author of the Award-winning book “What I See, I Can Be: A Guided Yoga Flow for Children”. Concerned about the childhood obesity issue and high anxiety kids face, Janet created easy to use Kids Yoga Resources so that Parents and Teachers could get their children active and fit – and calm and relaxed. Janet offers a “95 Hour Kids Yoga Teacher Training Certification” that is recognized by Yoga Alliance and is excellent for parents, teachers, daycare providers, youth leaders and health care professionals.
To learn more: www.ChildrensYogaBooks.com