I heard the first mention of this book on NPR and immediately ordered the book. It arrived just the other day and I sat down and read it through in one sitting, after listening to the author's very articulate discussion about the major factors which are contributing to the fact that boys -AND men - are faring worse than ever. The book is the result of many years of detailed study and research, not just some pop psych book hastily written and thrown out there.
I'll list some of the major points of the book but first I wanted to note some of the things I've observed, all of which the author covered as well. First, personal experience: As a parent of three, I've seen firsthand the changes in the school system in the last 25 years. Our oldest was allowed to walk about his classroom and his personality and inability to sit still for long periods of time was addressed, without meds (this does NOT mean that I think ADD or attention-deficit disorder does not exist but I DO think that in today's world he might well have been defined as ADD instead of having other options first). He loved school and he thrived and does not have ADD. In fact, as time went on, he settled down and became a rather steady, focused student.
As the author of this book has also noticed, there have been some alarming changes in the school system over the years. Kindergarten went from being a "hands-on" place, one that is good for boys, to a place where students were pushed to read, learn by doing worksheets and move away from field trips, exploring the world, meeting people in various professions or just touring a bread factory. This is a MAIN point made by the author, that
boys (and all children) need to "know" things by a combination of book learning and real experience.
Like the author, I also have seen the alarming rise in video games and obesity. My sons' friends were no longer eager to explore the creek, observe tadpoles or even be outside. They could spend days playing video games and even a suggestion of a walk to a nearby playground would bring groans. Yes, something was changing...for the worse....again, points made by this book (too much time spent at computers and videos). I want to be clear that I am not SlAMMING video games or computers but suggesting that there is an imbalance there, with far too much time given to those activities at the cost of others.
Some other points to consider, all of which are covered in detail in this book:
1. An overemphasis on teaching boys to read and learn math earlier than ever, when the average age when the AVERAGE boy's brain is ready to handle this is not at the kindergarten level.
2. The role of video games
3. Over-reliance on ADD meds (far more commonly used for boys than girls).
4. A lack of positive role models for boys, especially in popular culture, tv and other areas.
5. The possible impact of plastics and other toxin on the biochemistry of boys.
Here's the BEST part of the book, in my opinion: the suggestions for ways that parents can become pro-active and make a difference, first by working with their own sons (or the men in their lives) and then by improving the schools, which desperately could use their help.
There are also many success stories in this book, serving as inspiration for parents. As the parent of THREE boys, I really related to this and thought the author made some good, strong points!
on December 13, 2007
My youngest son is 22 and a senior in college. He called me the other day and said he had read a book and it changed his life. He told me that I had to go out and buy this book - "today!". I did and after reading it, I find that I am alarmed and at the same time reassured. My youngest son, in particular, is very much in the catagory of adrift and unmotivated. Now I know why. Now he knows why. He is incredibly reassured that he is normal, that he is not alone, and that there are steps he can take to "fix" his world. The first thing he is doing is unplugging his video devices; PC, Wii, xbox, nintendos, even his TV. He visited with his college advisor to get back on track with his physics major. Yes, he is very smart. But he is derailed in many ways for all the reasons laid out well in this remarkable book. I can tell you that you should, you must and you would be remiss if you have a male child and do not buy, read and digest this information. It will change your family and the way you do things. My husband is a director on the local school board and we intend to make some noise in our local school district because this is too huge of a problem across our country and in our schools to ignore. Thank you to Dr. Sax for his insightful, well researched and extremely helpful, motivating book. My son is a better person for knowing why he is the way he is and now has the tools to make himself over - better. I intend to help him get there. READ THIS BOOK!
on December 8, 2011
I'm a mom of two sons, 12 and 14 years old. A doctor friend of mine recommended this book (she also has sons). Dr. Sax starts out with a lot of promise: here are our cultural problems; here are reasons why our boys are experiencing these problems... then what? Change the schools, delay kindergarten, radically alter diets, ban the internet? I feel something IS different for boys today; I see it daily. Yet I can't turn back time and start them later in kindergarten or revamp the current trends in schools. There aren't any all-boy schools in my town. Dr. Sax's "answers" seem broad and vague.
I've read dozens of books over the years--primarily because my boys' childhoods have been so different from my own (farmer's daughter). The best ones provide practical suggestions I can use. Unfortunately, I didn't find much practical advice in Boys Adrift. My dad's answer for my brothers and me was work--manual labor, often outdoors. My bros (in their 40s now) didn't like school and barely figured out they needed to hop on the academic bus in time to go to college (which they did). Now they have their own businesses. So if today's boys are stuck with too much "Wissenschaft" in school, where is Dr. Sax's list of boys camps where they can balance that with "Kenntnis"? Where are the resources for hands-on learning such as the First competitions ([...]) or Lego Mindstorm? How about links to the Boy Scouts of America or other programs? Are there groups promoting apprenticeships? I'm disappointed: 185 pages of lead-up and 34 pages of Wissenschaft-type solutions. I'm still searching for ways to help my boys become good, smart, healthy men AND live within the systems and time frame of their generation.
on October 1, 2007
2011 POSTSCRIPT: Anyone thinking of buying this book should first read a great new expose in the American Journalism Review, entitled "How the News Media Peddle Junk Science." You can access it via a search engine search, or by using the shortened link, bit.ly/junkscience. Another news development is research on the gender gap in math performance. A summary of this research can be accessed via an online search for: "Major New Study Examines Explanations for Math Gender Gap." -- KF
Leonard Sax pronounces modern boys as in a state of shambles, and then sets out to tell us why. He posits intriguing theories, several of which have some empirical support:
First, schools have shifted to an overemphasis on academics for children as young as five, before many boys in particular are developmentally ready to read and write.
Second, video games promote a false sense of power while further disengaging boys from the real world.
Third, ADHD medications are "steamrolling" through American boys, potentially harming young brains and producing negative personality changes.
And fourth, environmental contaminants - in particular synthetic estrogenics from plastic water bottles - may be delaying and disrupting boys' pubertal development and contributing to ADHD, obesity, and other problems.
Whenever someone claims to have discovered a "growing epidemic," my alarm bells go off. In this case, Sax is so focused on proving his pet theories that he shamelessly distorts information and misses the larger picture. For example, he makes the alarmist claim that there is "a rise in violent crime" by young men. To those who don't know better, this might sound plausible. But Sax is citing a one-year spike (2006) in an otherwise-dramatic DROP in violent crime and juvenile crime in recent decades (per official U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics). As another example, he defends football culture by pointing out that the school shooters were not football players. That's a classic straw-man argument. While the shooters themselves were not football players, many of the school shooters were targeted and victimized by the dominant jocks on their school campuses (see the Secret Service study and the book Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, which I review). School shootings are typically committed by alienated and disenfranchised young men, whereas football culture has been linked to other forms of primarily group violence, including hazings, gay-bashings, and group rape. I was able to catch these distortions because those two topics happen to be within my areas of professional expertise. When I see that type of inaccurate and alarmist approach, I suspect that other information is also being distorted.
Overall, Sax places a lot of blame on individual young men (calling them lazy and parasitic) without adequately addressing changes in society that have contributed to their problems.
He also generalizes from his experiences with a mainly upper-class and white population. He discounts and ignores racial oppression (for example condemning music stars Akon and 50 Cent with same brush as "convicted felons") and the vast digital divide separating those who use computers (and play video games) from those who do not. He sings the same old lament about a supposed lack of positive male role models, despite scant research evidence that this is a major factor in the problems of modern American boys. (See Pollack's Real Boys : Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood and Garbarino's Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them for deeper analyses of these topics.)
In summary, although Sax makes some interesting points about the problems faced by boys in contemporary American culture, his alarmist rhetoric, distortions, and broad-brush generalizations detract from his credibility.
POSTSCRIPT (Sept. 23, 2011): The latest issue of Science magazine includes a study debunking Sax's claims about the superiority of single-sex education. According to the Washington Post, "The authors cite as unfounded work by Sax that boys and girls, for example, respond to classroom stress differently because of differences in their autonomic nervous systems, which make boys thrilled by loud, energetic or confrontational teachers, such as 'What's your answer, Mr. Jackson? Give it to me!' while girls prefer to be approached by a gentler touch, such as 'Lisa, sweetie, it's time to open your book.' A report on the study can be found in the Washington Post: "Study: Single-sex education may do more harm than good" (Sept. 22, 2011). - KF
on June 26, 2015
Why this book?
This book is recommended in my course: PH 2998 - Seminar in Child and Adolescent Health at UT School of Public Health, Austin Regional Campus, with Dr. Steve Kelder. I am not a parent and I have no son, yet I know nice and smart young men of my age who drop out from college, stay at home all day, sluggish and doing nothing but video games. I was hoping that this book can give me justification about this phenomenon, and what I learned from this book is above my expectation!
Dr. Sax is a MD, psychologist, and a practicing family physician. For almost 20 years, he has been seeing patients and observing emerging problems among boys, girls, young men and women. He is also a very popular Washington Post Op-ed writer, and he gives talks and leads public events throughout North America and around the world.
The book title well summarizes its content.
First Factor: School. The difference of brain development between boys and girls has long been recognized, even before the technology of brain imaging. It is just very strange that why our education system is not making corresponding changes. It makes me reflect on my own story: in the early 1990s, my parents sent me to elementary school 2 years ahead of time, because they believe that a girl’s mental and psychological development is about 2 years ahead of a boy’s. I felt perfectly comfortable with those boys who are a little older than me. And I remember most of the boys behave more “gentleman” to me, than towards girls of the same age with them.
Second Factor: video game. Video games give boys a wrong perception that they are in charge of the world. Therefore, we should limit the video game time and provide them healthy competition in the real world instead.
Third Factor: ADHD medicines. I know nothing about this topic. I feel that this factor, compared to the other four, is completely avoidable, and easiest to make a change. The change can be made jointly by teachers, parents and doctors: first, teachers should think twice upon defining a child as ADHD, and second, medication should never be the first choice when treating ADHD. Dr. Sax mentioned in his book that China has lower rate of ADHD than the US. I guess it is not because we Chinese children are more silent and obedient, but because parents always try to insist that it is not their child’s problem, and are extremely reluctant to accept that their child has ADHD, therefore, fewer kids get diagnosed.
Fourth Factor: endocrine disruptors, namely, increasing exposure to plastics. This is something that I have always concerned about, and it can be avoided by relatively simple behavior change: no bottled water, no soda, no plastic container in microwave, etc.
Fifth Factor: cultural influence and lack of role model. I am very impressed about how an appropriate role model is necessary for a boy, and that becoming a man is not equal to becoming a gentleman. Then I realized that for girls, it is a similar case. However, it is true that more often than not, a morbid character would look more attractive and “cooler” to a teenager than those healthy main stream role models. It is easier to understand considering that for teenagers, emotions are more dominant than cognition in decision making.
Plenty of vivid examples make the book fun and easy to read. Anecdotes and real patient cases interspersed through the book. As a single woman, I can especially relate myself to the email questions in Chapter 6 “Failure to Launch”. For example, if finding a partner means doing extra house work and having lower life expectations, then why bother? I hope Dr. Sax could write more feedbacks to these problems, instead of just posting the original email.
Dr. Sax provides practical advice that parents can follow and make a difference. Although some of them, such as picking a good school for the kids, are hard to achieve for some families, parents can always start with restricting video games, avoiding plastic bottles, and most importantly, coalesce with other parents to advocate for better school environment and positive policy change.
Dr. Sax gives us informative references as his evidences, which is another asset of this book. It covers from scientific articles to mass media reports, making this book not only conveys practical message to the public, but also helpful for researchers who want to investigate further.
Overall, this book is eye-opening and very well written. It offers well-reasoned evidence, and may change a boy’s future. I would recommend this book to parents, teachers, and anyone who concerns about child and adolescent development. However, I am still skeptical about single-gender education. I ask myself a question: “would I prefer sending my child to a single-gender school or a co-ed?” I cannot answer it. And I feel it necessary to read Dr. Sax’s other two books “Why Gender Matters” and “Girls on the Edge” to have a comprehensive and unbiased vision about how boys and girls should be nurtured differently.
on June 13, 2011
I work with middle schoolers and a lack of motivation is definitely seen in many of my boys. For some, it's a phase as they leave the sand box and discover girls. For other, large portions of our boys, they get into an apathetic rut and continue through high school and for a long time thereafter; possibly for the rest of their lives. They simply find new ways to live their lives as slugs. Why? I've had my theories but after reading Boys Adrift, I have research-based answers that are difficult to argue with.
Sax writes in an easy to understand way that does not seem to come from his own political or religious views. Instead, he quotes from his solid research and that of others. Sax does not come across as accusatory to parents but writes out of a sincere concern for the welfare of our boys and those adults who want the best for them. This is reflective of his desire for people to know the truth.
I believe Sax has many of the answers that parents and schools are looking for when they ask of a talented young man, "why won't you do anything?" Sax analyzes five cultural factors that he believes keeps our boys from excelling, and in a larger sense, weaken our society.
The five factors are education, video games, ADHD meds, endocrine disruptors, and our culture's views of manhood and of becoming a man. For education, I don't believe his advice would bode well with any school system that is stuck in their same old ways. However, individual schools and parents could benefit from his view that how we educate our boys can actually make them hate school. From his home in Philadelphia, I am sure there are plenty of private schools that could implement his thinking tomorrow. However, based on my experience, the threat of nuclear war wouldn't make some people change their view of how students should be taught.
For video games, he is quick to say that boys shouldn't play them at all. However, he keeps a balanced view characteristic of the rest of the book and states that in moderation, they are OK. He gives clear reasons why they are bad for our boys and as a former game-head, I'm a believer. Games tend to take the place of other more fulfilling endeavors that can more positively shape the minds of our young men.
I have shared his view of ADHD meds for a long time. Here he lays out the ways they work, the ways they don't work, and the risk factors involved. He leaves it up to the parent to decide whether or not they want their child on meds. Sax gives anecdotal evidence but also scientific evidence by quoting the DSM-IV's criteria for ADHD and various studies. You can tell that he shares in the struggles of parents who want what's best for their child in a world they may not totally fit in to.
The fourth factor Sax believes is contributing to underperforming boys is, "endocrine blockers." Basically, these are chemicals found in plastics that have been shown to accelerate puberty in girls while at the same time feminizing boys. I was very skeptical of this chapter but convinced after he quoted a study done in Puerto Rico of very mature girls and of male alligators that produce eggs (both linked by plastics). My pediatrician also expressed his concerns when I asked him.
I have written about the poor view of men and manhood for quite sometime, but Sax's analysis of cultures that help boys become men really opened my eyes. He said, "We twenty-first-century Americans smile condescendingly at such traditions. Our culture's neglect of the transition to manhood is not producing an overabundance of young men who are . . . hardworking." He's exactly right.
In short, Dr. Sax believes that gender is important. He quotes his book, Why Gender Matters quite often and I look forward to reading that book and his others. He says that three decades of believing that boys and girls are the same except for their genitalia have not produced a paradise of gender equity where boys respect women. Instead, it has given us performers like Eminem . . . whose music degrades women. Well said.
on April 19, 2009
I wanted to love this book. Being a teacher, I have been aware for longtime of the epidemic of apathy that is prevalent between American boys and young men. I have read this book and, although it is insightful and a much needed contribution to the topic, I think it forgets the most important reason
I don't want to dispute the five reasons the author gives, which are true in my opinion. But the author forgets the most important reason why American young men are unmotivated and this is the radical change the dating world has experienced the last decades.
Yesteryear American young men were motivated to work hard because this was the only way to get a bride and, for extension, a family. In a society where family was the most important thing, boys knew that their efforts would be rewarded with a family.
Not anymore. To begin with, longer studies and better contraceptives have made people marry later so young men see the marriage as something which is in the far future. Young men have sex before commitment, so they are not pressured to commit if they can have sex and companionship without commitment.
In addition, women have entered the workplace so men are not pressured to become a provider, which has been their role historically. Divorce is rampant so the ideal of a family has disappeared. Furthermore, hardworking men are deemed to be boring and unexciting. If you go to any college, you will see that the most hardworking men are the ones who get the less dates. Why bother then, when with some attitude and some good abs you can do better than by working?
Why should young men try to work hard? Every work is done because you want to get something. If work and rewards are disconnected, there is no reason to work. This is the elephant in the room that the author ignores.
on August 30, 2014
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! Other reviews here - and even the cover of the book - delineate the five factors he develops in the book, but the list 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 school and faith community! 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!
on October 6, 2007
This book had so much useful information, I can't possibly write about it all here. So in three words.....READ THIS BOOK. I mean......everyone. Whether you're a parent, teacher, coach, girlfriend, lunchlady, employer....anyone who knows a boy or man (or even manboy) in their life should check this out. Dr. Sax is not just some fly-by-night, so-called expert - he has been studying this for some time (plus he's a pediatrician) and cites different studies that he has come across that back up his findings. Don't expect to find an easy answer here, but rather 5 factors that may explain why an alarmingly high number of young men are unmotivated and refusing to "grow up" and get a job. The 5 factors are: Changes at School, Video Games, Medications for ADHD, Endocrine Disruptors (not sure how I feel about that one), and the Revenge of the Forsaken Gods. Of course, the first three I read about with GREAT interest since I was an elementary teacher. I especially liked that Dr. Sax was open to other opinions, such as the evolving independent woman. What motivation is there for a man, when a woman doesn't need anyone to take care of her anymore? (I'm sure I'm gonna hear some feedback about this, but bring it on)
All in all, this is a very engrossing book, filled with some pretty brutal facts (don't you just love oxymorons?) Some of the information you will agree with, and some you won't. I truly hope that school officials out there will at least read about Factor One and do something about the way we teach Kindergarten today!
on November 22, 2008
In "Boys Adrift", Leonard Sax investigates why boys across all socio-economic groups lack motivation and passion for real life activity. He says "they disdain school because they disdain everything." And "even more disturbing is the fact that so many of these boys seem to regard their laid back, couldn't-care-less attitude as being somehow quintessentially male". Sax puts forth five factors creating an epidemic of apathy and under-achievement.
His first factor is a change in the education paradigm that pushes first grade rigor into kindergarten and then continues to promote Wissenschaft, or book learning, over - and sometimes to the exclusion of - Kenntnis, or learning by experience. Schools have also reduced or eliminated competition, which many boys thrive on and develop their self-esteem. Sax challenges us to reverse these trends.
The second factor is an addiction of video games that promotes anti-social behavior and supposedly affects the brain similarly to ADHD meds. Video games provide a feeling of power and achievement without any of the effort required in real-life. "Playing games is easy. Studying is hard." We as parents are to blame for this. Sax recommends limiting games to 40 minutes per day, competitive sports, and prioritizing family, friends and real-world activities over video game play.
The third factor is the routine diagnosis of ADHD and ensuing medications that affect motivation long-term. For doctors and insurers, meds are cheaper than a formal and thorough assessment. And "some parents just don't want to hear that the reason their child is getting B's and C's is because he's just not that smart. They would rather hear that their child has ADHD and needs medication..." and it's easier to think your child has an "oppositional-defiant disorder" rather than he is a "disobedient brat". Sax recommends we challenge the diagnosis and diligently evaluate the cost-benefit of medications.
Sax cites as the fourth factor chemicals endocrine disrupters in plastics that emasculate the male, delay puberty, and foster obesity. Plastics are the biggest culprit here and he advises the use of glass containers. Apparently Sax originally thought this factor far-fetched but after research and investigation has become convinced.
Finally, the fifth factor is how society's minimization of masculinity and the passage to manhood has profoundly and negatively influenced the psyche of the young male. By eliminating the traditional rituals of manhood, "have we violated something which the ancients knew intuitively but which we have arrogantly ignored?" And if we do not expose our boys to positive male role models, they will look towards the media or their peers for their inspiration and guidance. The respected fathers and self-sacrificing male leaders of yester-year have been replaced with Homer Simpson and misogynistic, hedonistic pop icons.
Sax's presentation is very effective, and it is very readable at 220 pages. He parades by the reader a litany of case studies, either evidenced through his own experiences as a physician and psychologist or through emails or conversations with parents. He makes frequent references to his book "Why Gender Matters" and studies from various other authors. "Boys Adrift" is a call to fathers, mothers, teachers, coaches, and leaders, reminding us that our sons, students, and players desperately need our attention, consideration, guidance and protection.