Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Boys Adrift

A book review.

     Leonard Sax has written a book titled, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving The Growing Epidemic Of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men. (New York: Basic Books, 2007.)

     Dr. Sax (M.D., Ph. D., University of Pennsylvania, 1986) has been for many years a Family-Practice physician, and is interested in the well-being of children in their years of formal education, particularly the elementary and high-school years.  He has written at least two other books, Why Gender Matters (2005), and Girls On The Edge (2010), neither of which I have read -- yet.

     His Wikipedia entry notes that his views are "controversial."  Yes, I suppose they are:  anyone who challenges the Establishment status quo as thoroughly as he does, with facts, bold concerns, and an effective and engaging writing style would, indeed, be "controversial."

     I am going to tell you what his "five factors" are -- not intending them as a spoiler, but as a lure to get you to read this book.  Here are the five factors that he identifies as working against the healthy development of American boys:

     1.  Changes at school.  Particularly, the innovation of the last thirty years or so of expecting boys to learn to read (and sit still) at the age of five.

     2.  Video games.  Games that glorify violence and antagonistic behavior, of course; but also other games that substitute a fantasy world for the real one.

     3.  Medications for ADHD.  Dr. Sax has persuasive evidence that several popular medications prescribed for young boys (they are much more likely than girls to be diagnosed as having ADHD) damage brain function -- a damage that only appears years later in young adulthood.

     4.  Endocrine Disruptors.  Dangerous chemicals and residues that are widespread in the environment in developed countries and are known to produce atrophies in male organs and interfere with, or preclude, sexual function.

     5.  The Revenge of the Forsaken Gods.  I will not give away Dr. Sax's very interesting comments, but simply note that for those of us who suspect that there might be a religious dimension involved, he suggests that there is.  It is interesting to compare his ideas with those of others, both religious and secular, who are trying to address the modern "masculinity problem."

     To add to "controversy," Dr. Sax speaks well of the idea of segregating children into all-boys and all-girls educational environments, and I have to say that he makes an interesting case.   I think that this, as much as anything, raised the hackles of the educational establishment.

     He ends the book with some suggestions for how parents can deal with these "five factors."  I would say that he provides no easy, or complete, answers.  Consider this book as a doctor's diagnosis of a problem, and not a plan for social action.

      But if you are an educator, a social-worker, a socially-concerned individual, or a parent who is interested in the well-being and healthy growth and development of your child, I think this book would be well worth your time.

     I am grateful to a friend, who is the principal of a small inner-city elementary school, for lending me this book when I saw it sitting on his desk.  Thanks, Tim.


    Please note that Dr. Sax's focus in this book is particularly for boys.  If you are interested in problems specific to young girls, he has recently written a book entitled Girls On The Edge: The Four Factors Driving The New Crisis For Girls.

     Wikipedia says:

     ' On his web site, Sax says that he wrote Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge because he is concerned about "a growing proportion of girls who are anxious, depressed, and tired; girls who can tell you a great deal about what they do but not so much about who they are. Likewise, we find a growing proportion of boys who are disengaged not only from school but from the real world. Those boys are comfortable in the virtual world, where they play their online video games, and/or surf the net for photographs of girls." '

     Dr. Sax has a website.


  1. I usually avoid these type of books like the plague : ) But on your recommendation, I decided to give it a try. I found that my library has the audiobook available for free, so I started listening to it last night. You are right, it is very good. My library also has Why Gender Matters so I'll probably listen to that one too. I have boys and girls, so I'm interest in Girls on the Edge too but I'd have to actually drive to the library to get that one, lol.

  2. Robert,

    I read this book about 5 years ago as a freshman in college. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and since I was deep into Wendell Berry at this time, I made several connections between the two.

    Probably the best phrase I have heard to describe this problem is a phrase from the Presbyterian pastor Douglas Wilson: Father Hunger. Mr. Wilson also has a book out by that name. Not only do boys in our culture hunger for flesh and blood fathers, but overall our culture suffers from a lack of guidance from God the Father. And we must remember that this is what our Lord revealed to us: God as Father. Not a detached cosmic killjoy. Not a nagging Divine Mother/Mother Goddess. Not one of many competing Nephilim/Divine Council guys in the sky. But as Father. We need to reflect on that.

  3. So what does it mean to call God Father? A few preliminary thoughts...

    A Mother Goddess may make you feel better and fuzzy inside once you say a few rosaries or venerate a few Marian icons, but a Mother Goddess can't create anything because women do not generate life, they protect it. You need a father to create life.

    If God is our Father we acknowledge that He is the source and sustainer of our lives. We honor His provision for us. We trust His judgments. We also obey His words. Mother Earth may inspire us with beauty, but not fear, for a woman's purpose is not to inspire fear. Mother Earth's energy comes from submitting to the Father's generative energy. She is the glory of God, and not to be worshipped.

    God's essence is His power to generate, to father things. The Son generates from the Father, as does the Spirit. In the beginning the earth was formless and void, then it wasn't. The Son sends the Spirit back to the Father, and also out to us, so that we may be one in Him.