Friday, March 31, 2006

What's Happening to Boys?

What indeed. I read this article by Leonard Sax from the Washington Post, and it touches on something I've been watching and indeed it's been going on a long time... it's just reached a fever pitch.

The article notes that girls are driven to achieve goals, while boys drift aimlessly, content to play video games and work for spending money at Starbucks while living at home with Mom and/or Dad.

What's happened to boys?

Well, I have lots of speculation to offer. Where to begin?

I remember back in the early 1990's sitting at a Jr. High Academic Award event at which my younger step-son, an exception to this phenomenon, was receiving one or more awards. Even back then, the press -- both print and broadcast, was still rife with hand-wringing stories about how boys were treated differently in schools than girls, girls were not called on in class nearly as often as boys. Girls were being ignored, and thus not receiving as good an education. This supposedly heavily slanted the skillset in favor of boys when it came to college and the job market.

But something seemed a bit incongruous there in that assembly hall, where clearly there were at least two girls to every boy (perhaps as many as three to one) receiving academic awards. I was sitting there thinking, if girls are told they aren't as smart as boys and not encouraged to excel, why did the girls vastly outnumber the boys getting the awards? Besides, it really didn't jive with my experience in high school in the late 1970's and early 1980's. Girls, in general, were more studious than boys, in general, and typically got better grades.

I think part of the problem is that girls are encouraged to behave and be good members of society, where boys are encouraged by their peers and by girls themselves to be rebels. A big part of rebelling is not doing what you're supposed to be doing -- eg: studying.

This has been going on to some extent since at least the late 1950's. The boy who doesn't follow the rules, maybe gets a part-time job in high school and gets a car & scores booze, stays out late (and not at the library) is much more attractive to your average teen-age girl than is the boy who follows the rules, studies hard, and gets good grades. And anyone who doesn't think that the top thing on a high school boy's mind is impressing girls has his head in the sand.

But that's been going on more or less as I mentioned since around the 1950's. There are other factors that used to help balance this tendency that have been removed in our society. One of them has been the collapse of discipline in the home. There used to be real consequences for not keeping your grades up. Now at "worst" you get yelled at, and often it's not your fault, it's the teacher's (in the parents' minds, anyway).

And the third big factor, I'll posit, is the rapid development of the entitlement mentality in the past half-century. It used to be pretty much understood if you were a boy that unless you were in college or had really fallen on some temporarily rough times -- you were out of the house very shortly after high school. If you were not, you were seen as a failure. A loser. There was incentive.

"Being a man" used to have everything to do with responsibility. Today, that's to macho. Boys are discouraged from taking pride in "being a man". It's practically something to be ashamed of today.

Today, nothing's anybody's fault. There's little or no shame in living at home as an adult. Mom and Dad blame themselves for Johnny's failure, and so feel compelled to keep supporting him. Johnny, with a roof over his head, a comfy bed, & food bears little or none of the actual cost of his livelihood. Even if he does have a job, the money is typically his to spend irresponsibly -- after all, it's not enough to support him, and mom and dad aren't going to kick him out. What a deal!

We also live in a more and more liberalized society that sees making money as evil, especially men -- and even more so white men -- making money. So what incentive does Johnny have, especially if women will have casual sex with him? He's got everything he wants.

Low standards, lack of discipline, rewards for anti-social behavior, not being held responsible for their livelihood, and loose morals.

Ok, so what about girls? Why are girls driven?

After all, there is the same lack of discipline for girls, the same low standards, and the same protectiveness by parents. Not the rewards for anti-social behavior, though.

Deep down at the animal level, the truth is that men are driven by sex, and women are driven by security. It used to be that women could rely on men for that security. It is also true that women are at least socially predisposed -- if not genetically as well -- to more empathy than men are. They are probably less likely to be comfortable with burdening their parents with the extra load of supporting them as adults. Combine that with the deterioration of motivation for men to succeed -- women increasingly have to rely on themselves for their livelihood.

Now on top of that, add affirmative action as an incentive for women and a disincentive for men, and it's not hard to come up with a rational explanation to what is happening to boys.

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