Boys Adrift:
The Five Factors Driving The Growing Epidemic Of Unmotivated Boys
And Underachieving Young Men
[A Doctor’s Plan To Help Sons Fulfill Their Potential]
Leonard Sax

Girls at every age get better grades in school than boys do, in every subject—not because girls are smarter, researchers have found, but because girls try harder. p. 27

[According to Richard Louv, author of Last Child In The Woods, p 63, 67] “Nature is about smelling, hearing, tasting.” The end result of a childhood with more time spent in front of computer screens than outdoors is what Louv calls “cultural autism. The symptoms? Tunneled senses, and feelings of isolation and containment… [and] a wired, know-it-all state of mind. That which cannot be Googled does not count.” p. 30

Louv provides a compendium of research demonstrating that when there is profound imbalance in a child’s early experiences—when nature has been replaced by computers screens and fancy indoor toys—the result is an increased risk for attention deficit disorder. p. 31

[Many years ago I had a bright student who was prescribed a daily variety of medications (four or five as I recall) and who had been removed from school for violent behavior. I worked with the student for several months. I vividly recall one instance when I took the student out into the back yard for a mini-field trip. The result was not good. The student followed me about like a duckling and after tramping about in woods in the back of the property for perhaps 10 minutes expressed dis-ease and asked if we could go back inside. The parents eventually decided to withdraw from the school system and enroll the child in a school in the rural west. I was contacted by the mother several months later and told that the student was off all medication and thriving in the electronics-free, out-of-doors environment the new school provided. JH]

Mater Dei School is an all-boys elementary school not far from my home in Montgomery County, Maryland, where this principle [that boys respond to challenges as long as: there are winners and losers and the outcome is in doubt. Anybody might conceivably win and anybody might conceivably lose. Everything depends on how hard you play.] is understood very well. On enrollment, every boy is assigned either to the Blue Team or the White Team. The assignment [unlike those made by the Hogwarts’s Sorting Hat] is arbitrary, in other words, it’s random—and permanent. Once you’re a member of the Blue Team, you are forever a member of the Blue Team. The two teams compete in every aspect of school life. When the boys play soccer, it’s Blue against White. On school examinations, it’s Blue against White. The Team that scores higher on the exams get points. The team whose members donate more food to give away at Thanksgiving get points. A the end of the year, the winning team[, like the winning house at Hogwarts, JH] is officially recognized and gets its name—“Blue” or “White”—the year of its victory, the name of the team captains [house boys], emblazoned on a plaque in the hallway. This may seem silly to some people. [Not if you’ve read the J.K. Rowling. JH] But for many of the boys, it’s highly motivating.

Team competition is another benefit for boys who are motivated by the will to win. Team competition socializes boys. It teaches boys to value something above themselves. It subordinates some of the ego and the egocentricity that these boys often manifest. pp. 45-46

[According to “Does High Self-Esteem Cause better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?” in Psychological Science In The Public Interest, vol. 4, pp. 1-44, 2003.] The correlation between a boy’s self-esteem in a subject and his performance in that subject is zero at best—and may possibly be negative, after controlling for ability. p. 50

…the agony of defeat is lessened by the comforting knowledge that [the boy] can just hit “Restart” and play [the game] all over again… and again.

Today, any boy with a high-speed Internet connection can play in real time against another gamer across town or on the other side of the planet. Sophisticated headsets allow boys to engage in simulated combat in teams, arranging coordinated ambushes of enemy fighters using high-tech virtual weaponry. After your son has spent two hours leading a squad of fighters in a raid on terrorist headquarters, issuing commands through his headset-mounted microphone [just like Ender Wiggins, JH] to his online comrades, and raced through a hail of bullets to destroy the enemy power generator, well studying Spanish grammar from a textbook can seem hopelessly dull. The virtual world is fast-moving, interactive, collaborative and fun. The real world of homework, and textbooks, can’t compete—not, at least, for the boy who is motivated by [Friedrich Nietzsche’s ] will to power. p. 60

Every investigator [Sax’s endnote at this point, No. 16, page 237, cites five studies and provides links to The Guardian and the original government report (which is now decommissioned but may be accessible in an archive). JH] who has correlated the amount of time that a child or adolescent or young adult spends playing video games with that student’s academic performance has found a negative correlation. p. 63

A young man at college today has unprecedented sexual opportunities. Unlike his father or grandfather, he is likely attending a school where men are outnumbered by women. Even boys who are not the best-looking or particularly popular now have an excellent chance of finding a woman to date. Nevertheless, as the New York Times reported in a front-page story, college administrators are reporting that more and more young men show no interest in meeting young women (or meeting other men for that matter). They don’t want to meet anybody. They just want “to stay in their rooms, talk to no one, [and] play video games into the wee hours…. [They] miss classes until they withdraw or flunk out.” p. 71

Psychiatrist Jennifer Harris recently pointed out that today, “many clinicians find it easier to tell parents their child has a brain-based disorder than to suggest parenting changes.” p. 86 [From A Rush To Medicate Young Minds.]

[MIT professor John Gabrieli found that] …medication for ADHD improved the performance of normal kids by the same degree that it improved the performance of kids with ADHD. p. 88

Many boys do look and feel more or less OK while they’re taking [ADHD] medications. What these parents don’t know—and what doctors also may not know—is that even relatively short-term use of these drugs, or just a year or perhaps less, can lead to changes in personality. The boy who uses to be agreeable, outgoing and adventurous becomes lazy and irritable. p. 89

…[International studies] all have found that exposing young laboratory animals to [ADHD] medications—even at low doses for short periods—can cause permanent damage to the nucleus accumbens, the part of the brain that is responsible for translating motivation into action. If a boy’s nucleus accumbens is damaged, he may still feel hungry or sexually aroused. He just won’t feel motivated to do anything about it. p. 90

One particularly disturbing recent study—conducted jointly by researchers at Tufts, UCLA and Brown University—documented a nearly linear correlation between the nucleus accumbens and individual motivation. The smaller the nucleus accumbens, the more likely that person was to be apathetic, lacking in drive. The investigators emphasized that apathy was quite independent of depression. A young man can be completely unmotivated—and still be perfectly happy and content. p. 90-1

I’ve come to believe that we should not medicate boys so they fit the school; we should change the school to fit the boy. p. 96 [Through alterations such as ARC Tech and Room 113 perhaps? JH]

[Sax devotes Chapter Six to what he describes as “a failure to launch;” a tendency for boys not leave the home. I wonder if this has affected the military?” JH]

[Social critic Charles Murray observes that:] The spread of wealth at the top of American society has created an explosive increase in the demand for craftsmen. Finding a good lawyer or physician is easy. Finding a good carpenter, painter electrician, plumber, glazier, mason—the list goes on and on—is difficult, and it is a seller’s market… [M]aster craftsmen can make six figures. They have work even in a soft economy. Their jobs cannot be outsourced to India. And the craftsman’s job provides wonderful intrinsic rewards that come from mastery of a challenging skill that produces tangible results. How many white-collar jobs provide nearly as much satisfaction? p. 123 [From What’s Wrong With Vocational School?]

“The thing is, his family always bailed him out and they still try to. I forbid it. He gets upset that I am upset but he never takes any interest in things even when he says he will. I think he just believes everything will magically work out every month like it has in the past.” p. 141 [From an email written to Sax.]

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