Your son is extremely bright, loves to read, did well in school at one time, but has either suddenly or gradually decided that he doesn’t care whether he gets an A or an F. You lecture and you punish but nothing seems to motivate him. In his book, Boys Adrift, Leonard Sax looks at the epidemic of “underachieving boys and unmotivated young men.” This involves young boys who don’t want to succeed and young men who are content to live at home with their parents well into adulthood.
In my upcoming articles I will cover each of the five cultural factors Sax believes hurt our boys. I will by no means handle the topics as extensively as he does, so I encourage you to read the book. Hopefully my articles will give you an understanding of your boy who seems to care about nothing.
The first cultural factor is that of school. Your son is smart, but can’t sit still in class. Has anyone suggested medication or an ADHD diagnosis? Possibly and you may have even researched it yourself. Your son may not be the problem but rather asking your son to do something he’s not developmentally ready to do.
The thrust of Sax’s book is that boys don’t seem to care about much. One fourteen-year-old son told his mother, “Girls care about getting good grades. Geeks care about grades. Normal guys do not care about grades.” We shouldn’t confuse this with boys being boys. Sax references Tom Sawyer and Ferris Bueller who never had any interest in school. They did however pursue interests and work towards their own schemes. Some boys today lack motivation and want to reach “guyhood” by being as successful as possible at doing nothing.
In 2007, a study done by the National Institute of Mental Health supported other studies reporting that the language areas of the brain in many five-year-old boys look like the language areas of the brain of the average three-and-a-half-year-old girl. Your son has been struggling for a few years and finally says mid-elementary, “I hate school.” He’s being asked to do something his brain isn’t ready to do. Why shouldn’t he hate it?
There’s another fundamental difference between boys and girls. Girls have an innate desire to please the adults in their lives. The type of boys Sax discusses in his book does not have this desire. As we know, some boys work to please, but others want to anger the closest authority figure. Girls are more likely to see situations from the point of view of the adults in charge. Boys aren’t. So, of course girls will do better in school and enjoy it more. From 1949 to 2006, boys enrolled in a four-year college dropped from 70 percent to 42 percent. More girls are going because of obvious changes, but fewer boys are in attendance.
Not only are boys behind developmentally just because of their biology; certain school factors are unfriendly to boys. Over the past thirty years, many school districts have eliminated sports such as dodgeball, believing that such sports “reward violence.” Competition has also been eliminated as it “alienates some kids from sports.” While we worry about the unathletic kids, we are losing those who thrive on such atmospheres. A boy with this persona may look at an environment void of competition and say, “why bother?” Indeed.
Sax suggests homeschooling, transferring schools, or working to change things within your school. Getting a teacher who understands boys is certainly helpful and probably the surest thing. Many books have been written on the topic including Sax’s Why Gender Matters. Research the matter and do your best to raise a well-rounded boy. After all, it’s every parents’ duty.