BOOK REVIEW: Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Leonard Sax, M.D, Ph.D.

I work with middle schoolers and a lack of motivation is definitely seen in many of my boys. For some, it’s a phase as they leave the sand box and discover girls. For other, large portions of our boys, they get into an apathetic rut and continue through high school and for a long time thereafter; possibly for the rest of their lives. They simply find new ways to live their lives as slugs. Why? I’ve had my theories but after reading Boys Adrift, I have research-based answers that are difficult to argue with.


Sax writes in an easy to understand way that does not seem to come from his own political or religious views. Instead, he quotes from his solid research and that of others. Sax does not come across as accusatory to parents but writes out of a sincere concern for the welfare of our boys and those adults who want the best for them. This is reflective of his desire for people to know the truth.

I believe Sax has many of the answers that parents and schools are looking for when they ask of a talented young man, “why won’t you do anything?” Sax analyzes five cultural factors that he believes keeps our boys from excelling, and in a larger sense, weaken our society.

The five factors are education, video games, ADHD meds, endocrine disruptors, and our culture’s views of manhood and of becoming a man. For education, I don’t believe his advice would bode well with any school system that is stuck in their same old ways. However, individual schools and parents could benefit from his view that how we educate our boys can actually make them hate school. From his home in Philadelphia, I am sure there are plenty of private schools that could implement his thinking tomorrow. However, based on my experience, the threat of nuclear war wouldn’t make some people change their view of how students should be taught.

For video games, he is quick to say that boys shouldn’t play them at all. However, he keeps a balanced view characteristic of the rest of the book and states that in moderation, they are OK. He gives clear reasons why they are bad for our boys and as a former game-head, I’m a believer. Games tend to take the place of other more fulfilling endeavors that can more positively shape the minds of our young men.

I have shared his view of ADHD meds for a long time. Here he lays out the ways they work, the ways they don’t work, and the risk factors involved. He leaves it up to the parent to decide whether or not they want their child on meds. Sax gives anecdotal evidence but also scientific evidence by quoting the DSM-IV’s criteria for ADHD and various studies. You can tell that he shares in the struggles of parents who want what’s best for their child in a world they may not totally fit in to.

The fourth factor Sax believes is contributing to underperforming boys is, “endocrine blockers.” Basically, these are chemicals found in plastics that have been shown to accelerate puberty in girls while at the same time feminizing boys. I was very skeptical of this chapter but convinced after he quoted a study done in Puerto Rico of very mature girls and of male alligators that produce eggs (both linked by plastics).  My pediatrician also expressed his concerns when I asked him.

I have written about the poor view of men and manhood for quite sometime, but Sax’s analysis of cultures that help boys become men really opened my eyes. He said, “We twenty-first-century Americans smile condescendingly at such traditions.  Our culture’s neglect of the transition to manhood is not producing an overabundance of young men who are . . . hardworking.” He’s exactly right.

In short, Dr. Sax believes that gender is important. He quotes his book, Why Gender Matters quite often and I look forward to reading that book and his others. He says that three decades of believing that boys and girls are the same except for their genitalia have not produced a paradise of gender equity where boys respect women. Instead, it has given us performers like Eminem . . . whose music degrades women. Well said.