Issue 6: What economic and cultural changes create males who flounder in young adulthood?

Issue 6: What economic and cultural changes create males who flounder in young adulthood?
Increasing numbers of boys “fail to launch,” living at home with their parents in young adulthood and struggling to find a satisfying direction for their lives. The major factors are believed to be: 1) boys’ intense involvement in video games, 2) outdated conceptions of masculinity which emphasize toughness and hiding feelings rather than the emotional literacy and interpersonal skills important in the new work world, 3) the high rate of divorce and out-of-wedlock births which isolate many boys from models of productive manhood, and 4) the decline of high-paid work in traditional male occupations, such as unionized manufacturing.
Research and Policy Issues:
Can the attractiveness of video games and other activities in the virtual environment be harnessed to increase boys’ engagement in school, achievement, positive self-concepts and creativity? How? What are boys’ (and girls’) conceptions of masculinity and how do these concepts differ in particular cultural and socioeconomic groups? What is the evidence that changing boys’ views of masculinity would increase psychological health, school achievement, college attendance, and sense of direction?
1. Sax, Leonard. (2007). Boys adrift. New York: Basic Books.
Sax suggests that five factors make young men less ambitious, help to explain why a third of men ages 22 to 34 now live at home with their parents, and why about one in seven men between the ages of thirty and fifty-four are not working or looking for work. The first factor is changes in schools, such as the increased emphasis of kindergarten and early elementary education on reading instruction for which many boys are not developmentally ready. The second factor is video games, which satisfy boys’ needs for power and competence, but draw them away from real-world relationships and challenges. The third factor is medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which may damage regions of the brain which influence motivation. Sax also discusses the possible role of endocrine disruptors and the loss of positive male role models in explaining young men’s increasing “failure to launch.”
2. Pollack, William. (1998). Real boys. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Despite the bravado that many boys express, Pollack argues that many boys suffer from loneliness and depression, contributing to high rates of suicide among adolescent males. Boys are trapped in the “Boy Code,” feigning self-confidence, cutting themselves off from feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty and need, and fearing that asking for help demonstrates weakness. Pollack recommends helping boys to express a range of emotions, letting boys know that toughness does not define masculinity, and developing broader conceptions of what it means to be a man. He provides specific guidelines, such as engaging in action-oriented activities to encourage boys to talk about problems and feelings, and expressing love and support even when boys reject and withdraw from open expressions of nurturance.
3. Kindlon, Dan & Thompson, Michael. (1999). Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys. New York: Ballantine Books.
Stereotypical ideas about masculine toughness create emotional isolation and give boys a limited repertoire for dealing with anger and adversity. Kindlon and Thompson argue that boys need to develop “emotional literacy”––identifying and naming emotions, recognizing the emotional content of their own and others’ experiences, and understanding how to deal with feelings of frustration, fear, anger, and low self-esteem. Especially interesting is the discussion of fathers and sons, the yearning that sons have to be loved and respected by their fathers, and the importance of fathers in helping sons to accept frustration, control their tempers, and lose gracefully.
4. Thompson, Michael. (2000). Speaking of boys: Answers to the most-asked questions about raising sons. New York: Ballantine Books.
This is a book for parents which responds to the questions most asked about raising sons: Why do so many boys turn everything into weapons? How do you deal with boys’ arrogance and in-your-face defiance? What do you do about an underachieving boy? How do you know when your son needs therapy? Thompson offers sensible and perceptive answers to these questions and raises questions that parents may not know to ask.

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