Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Boys Adrift - Leonard Sax

Title: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men
Author: Leonard Sax
Publisher: Basic Books, 2016 (Revised Edition), (Paperback)
Length: 341 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: May 18, 2018
Finished: May 19, 2018

From the back cover:

Something scary is happening to boys today. From kindergarten to college, American boys are, on average, less resilient and ambitious than they were a mere twenty years ago. The gender gap in academic achievement has widened dramatically. While Emily is working hard at school and getting A's, her brother Justin is goofing off. He's more concerned about getting to the next level in his video game than about finishing his homework. Now, Dr. Leonard Sax delves into the scientific literature and draws on more than twenty years of clinical experience to explain why boys and young men are underperforming in school and disengaged at home. Hw shows how social, cultural, and biological factors have created and environment toxic to boys. He also presents practical solutions, sharing strategies that educators have found effective in reengaging boys at school, as well as handy tips for parents about everything from homework and video games to medication. Revised and updated throughout, this new edition of Boys Adrift points us toward a brighter future for America's sons.

I don't have a son, though I have been privileged to work with some lovely boys and young men, many of whom I would want a hypothetical son of mine to emulate. However, that can't be said for all the boys and young men I have encountered in my teaching career. The author is correct when he says we are facing an epidemic of unmotivated and underachieving boys and young men, I have seen the trend for years now: the girls are fine for the most part academically, but its rare to find a motivated, ambitious boy nowadays.

The author gives several reasons for this trend, all backed by research and studies: schools becoming unwelcoming to boys, video games, prescription drugs (specifically for ADHD), environmental toxins (specifically endocrine disruptors), and the devaluation of masculinity. Again, not every incidence of an unmotivated and underachieving male is a result of these five things, but I do think they heavily contribute in many cases (going purely by anecdotal experience). Reading this book actually makes me fear for boys in general, they have so much stacked against them. For those with sons though, don't worry, the author does offer some decent solutions (not all are viable or realistic though). And I got my own own dose of fear for my own offspring while reading the author's companion book on girls (review to follow shortly).

I do agree that schools have become unfriendly to boys in regards to fears of litigation leading to over-cautious safety rules. I'm all for letting boys be physical at recess and in gym class so long as they understand the risks and don't affect others who don't wish to be affected, but I understand why schools have made this change (damn parents who will sue for things most consider genuine accidents). In terms of content, I try to include action-oriented stories and assignments, or at least offer them as options where available, perhaps because I'm a bit of a mixed bag in terms of the types of content I personally enjoy, so I assume the kids are too. The author's idea of starting in the middle of a text in a particularly appealing scene would totally work for most of the boys I teach, so he does offer some good strategies for making the classroom more boy-friendly.

The author's opinions on ADHD medications can certainly be controversial. Is ADHD a legitimate medical condition? Of course it is. Do some people benefit from medications prescribed for such a condition? Damn straight. Are there people who are prescribed said medication unnecessarily? I believe so, yes. In my experiences with my own daughter, so many conditions can present as ADHD, the symptoms are the exact same. Until we literally start doing brain scans as part of an ADHD assessment, we'll never truly know which kid legitimately has ADHD and which kid might have anxiety, giftedness, sensory processing disorder, or simply sleep deprivation. So I do agree with the author that a thorough assessment needs to be done to eliminate any other possible condition the child might have, and to try other options and therapies before jumping on the medication bandwagon. Again, I've gone through it with my own daughter, so a lot of this area comes from personal experience.

The video game aspect is something I whole-heartedly agree with, especially since my grade 9 class (of mostly boys) is currently obsessed with Fortnite. In the absence of real-world goals, some boys turn to violent video games. Again, not all video games are bad, but I think most people agree that 10 and 11-year-olds shouldn't be playing uber violent games like Grand Theft Auto (or insert random violent game title here), and of course kids should have more varied hobbies and interests than just video games. It doesn't help that many boys (and girls too for that matter) don't have many healthy role models in their lives, and those that do don't often recognize that fact due to being blinded by popular culture.

The endocrine disruptor aspect is an idea I've heard quite a bit of research on over the years, so I don't doubt that hypothesis either. It's just unfortunate that there aren't always a ton of viable solutions to this area.

Like my previous review on this author's book on parenting, I think this should be a must-read for anyone involved with children period (whether you have sons or not). It not only addresses trends and patterns people working with children have been noticing for years, but it also offers up solutions to help work against these trends.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's a parenting book, so I don't exactly expect it to blow me away, but it is a nice touch that the accent colours used are "stereotypical boy colours."

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