Everyone who expects to interact with boys or men under the age of 50 should read this book. I’ve stewed on this for weeks since reading it in an attempt to digest the content and decide how to convey the importance of this book. In the end I have concluded that I can hardly do it justice but I have to spread the word. I’d like to do so by summarizing the five factors that – as the subtitle suggests – drive the growing epidemic of unmotivated boys and underachieving young men.
Changes at School
Speaking especially of the changes to the first years of school which have become much more academic than they used to be, our approach to education is generally incompatible with the developmental trajectory of most boys. Finland consistently scores near the top of international rankings of student achievement while starting school at age seven. In the United States there is talk of pushing the beginning of formal education back to age four.
Another aspect of schooling that is out of line with male learning patterns is the nearly exclusive focus on academic knowledge – facts and figures – while minimizing experiential knowledge. I see signs that there are efforts to change this in our schools but I think we are somewhat handicapped by the fact that English only has one word for both types of knowledge while most other languages have two different words for those types of knowledge.
This is not a slam on all video games or a call to ban anything but research has shown that video games have the ability to help some gamers to dissociate from the real world. The mechanism is especially effective at subverting the motivation mechanisms in male brains so that they lose the appetite for pursuing other interests.
We need to become more conscious of the potential harms of video games and of the symptoms that indicate that a boy is being harmed by them, especially as parents.
Medications for ADHD
Not unlike video games (although not through the same physiological mechanisms), the medications for ADHD interfere with the motivational mechanisms in the brains of boys and we are prescribing these medications orders of magnitude more often than we used to. (The way motivation works physiologically in girls is different from boys and I don’t know if the ADHD medications have the same demotivating effect on girls.)
Studies have shown that ADHD medications do affect behavior and improve academic performance even in children without ADHD so taking the medications is not a valid way to test whether your child has ADHD. With or without ADHD, taking these medications will leave boys demotivated once the medications are withdrawn.
We’ve all heard about BPA and the fact that it’s bad for us. This is just one well known example of an endocrine disruptor. This and other endocrine disruptors have the effect of mimicking female hormones such as estrogen. In extreme cases this has been shown to cause male fish to produce eggs instead of sperm. Among humans documented effects of these chemicals include early-onset of puberty in girls, delayed-onset of puberty in boys, increased weight gain in both genders, increased reproductive problems in boys, and they may possibly be linked to decreased bone density in boys.
The Revenge of the Forsaken Gods
Unlike the other factors this one is not even remotely self-explanatory. The name comes from an email to the author. The author uses this phrase to refer to the fact that boys do not become men without men who around them modeling pro-social traits of manhood.
Boys learn what positive manhood is from interacting with men who have matured and learned how to be good men. As we get more busy, segregate more and more between youth and adults, and turn every activity into a coed event, the opportunities for boys and young men to learn good masculine behavior in an environment free from the distractions of trying to impress the young women or show off for their peers who know nothing more about manhood than they do have grown scarce in many parts of society.
This book needs to be very widely read so that more people can take action to counteract the effects of these five factors. The best thing we could do for our society would be to make this knowledge ubiquitous and make adjustments until this book becomes virtually irrelevant because we have altered the trends that have been setting our young men adrift for the last few decades.