November 13, 2010

Boys Adrift...

In my quest to figure out how to raise my children right, I read many, many parenting books.  Some are about parenting in general; some are about being a single parent; some are about living with boys.  Most tell me what I already know or could figure out on my own.  I don't bother reviewing those here.  At best these self-help books remind me of the basics, keep me on track or make me feel less alone.  This book, Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax, was different.  It made me sit up, pay attention and take notes. 

I teach at a middle school.  I have first hand knowledge of the "growing apathy and lack of motivation" many boys present today.  It's sad, it's scary and it's real.  I do not want my sons to turn out like these kids.  Well, like 90% of these kids--there are some wonderful students who fly under the radar.  Maybe their parents read this book when it was first published in hardcover.

The author attributes boys' lack of motivation (and later, failure to lauch) to these five factors:
  • Changes in the vision and mission of public education
  • Video Games
  • ADHD medications
  • Endocrine Disrupters (plastic contaminants in foods)
  • Lack of good male role models
After reading this book, I decided that my sons won't play video games that I have not sat through and played myself.  Video game playing will be limited to a few hours per week.  It sounds harsh.  Archaic.  Unrealistic. Unfair.  Out of touch.  Maybe, but Dr. Sax convinced me that this activity is not a harmless pastime.  I never, ever believed in censorship until I became a mother.  Realizing that I am responsible for the innocence of these children was (literally) a game-changer.  Restricting their access to the powerful influence of harsh video games is the least I can do for their developing minds.  I also know that I cannot raise them in a bubble.  They will have friends.  They will go to the neighbor's house after school.  I get it...I really do.

As a special education teacher, I've worked with children who require medication for ADHD in order to function both at school and at home.   Dr. Sax cautions that his book is not specific treatment advice for any individual.  However, he does present strong research describing the overuse and detrimental effects of certain medications commonly prescribed for boys.  After reading his analysis, I promised myself that if either of my sons is diagnosed with ADHD, medication will be the very last resort.

Dr. Sax is not particularly SMC-friendly but not outright discouraging either.  By the time I got to the section about boys needing to see men to become men, I was so impressed with his other research that I forgave the predictability of his "manhood is mimesis" chapter.  I don't doubt the validity of his statements; I simply find that this particular subtopic is handled tritely in most media.

If you are the mom of a boy and read only one parenting book this year, I hope it will be this one.  Maybe it will have a similarly strong impact on your parenting.  Maybe not.  But I'm certain it will leave you more informed for the journey.  The sites  and  have much more information about the author and his other books, including Girls on the Edge and Why Gender Matters.


  1. Thanks, I will have to look for it on

  2. Not having boys I haven't really thought about whether or not I subscribe to the "see men to become men" thing .. but how you describe "men" here? Just because it has a penis attached doesn't make it an appropriate role model.

    I have decided that I will expose my daughter to as many positive males as I can find in my life to try to give her a sense of the masculine. She has a doting grandpa, so she has a loving male figure in her life, if that's important for her development. But just sticking any old "man" in there I don't think is the idea ... or even a good idea.

    I've read alot of the research on endocrine disruptors and it's scary. Makes me want to only buy stuff in glass bottles - which is not easy to do.

    You know, I was really hoping for a boy while I was preggo. I was afraid that raising a girl would be too difficult for me to handle. The issues are just different. Glad you found a good resource.

  3. very much going to check out the book.

  4. i love to find new parenting books. obviously, i don't have a boy, but i might just have to check it out anyway!!! :D

    i wonder if i might end up with a boy at some point... right now, they seem to want me to take teen girls. of course, T is having a boy, though. :)


  5. I am totally right there with you on the video game thing. Not gonna happen. Just like sodas. Is it out there? Sure. Are they eventually going to try it? Sure. But having it at their friends' houses and getting it at home is a different thing. So I hear you on that.

    I will check out the book too. I also read a great one called "Raising Boys Without Men." Check it out if you haven't already...

  6. Nice review of Boys Adrift--I love this book too. Dr. Sax has some great ideas. After reading his book, I threw out all of my plastic sippy cups--not sure if that was a good thing, but it made me feel better.

  7. I am going to reserve this at my library. Thank you for the insight!

    And, for the record, you're not alone in the screen time restrictions and other limitations you put on your children. I'm glad to see another mom who has the same guidelines as I do on that subject.