The Problem With Boys

Joe Newman

By: Joe Newman

Our boys are in trouble. They are falling behind girls academically, socially, and psychologically. Consider the following:

• Boys are 30% more likely to drop out of school before graduation.
• Girls outperform boys at all levels of schooling, from elementary to graduate programs.
• Boys are 11% less likely to get a B.A. and 10% less likely to get a graduate degree than girls are.
• Boys make up 2/3 of special education programs.
• Boys are five times more likely to be diagnosed and medicated for ADHD.

There has been a confluence of cultural shifts responsible for this dangerous trend, a sort of perfect storm that is ravaging the psyches of our boys. The shifts fall into one of three categories:

Shifts in what our boys do with their free time, shifts in our schools, and shifts in the parenting. Understanding these three areas will point us in the direction of how we can take practical steps to save our boys.

First, boys are spending a lot of their free time playing video games and watching porn on the internet.
• By age 21 boys have spent an average of 10,000 hours gaming, 2/3rds of that in isolation.
• The average boy watches 50 porn clips per week.

The result of this is that boys are developing “arousal addictions” and they are developing minds that seek constant change, novelty, excitement, and arousal. This makes them unprepared for classrooms that are predominantly interactively passive, static, and analog in nature. It also makes it more difficult for them to develop real relationships which build gradually and subtly (from Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys? –

Next, the culture of our schools is increasingly alienating boys.
• Boys are expelled 3 times as often as girls.
• They are suspended 2.5 times as often.
• They are 2.75 times as likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability.
• They are 3.24 times as likely to be diagnosed as emotionally disturbed.

Ali Carr-Chellman of Penn State attributes the above to three factors. First there is a “zero tolerance” policy toward weapons or violence. This is often translated into not only a ban on real and toy weapons but also writing about these things or about topics that seem destructive or violent in nature. Second, there is an appalling lack of male role models in our elementary schools. Ten years ago 14% of elementary school teachers were male. Today that number has dropped to 7%. And third, there has been a compressing of our children’s curriculum in essence making “kindergarten the new second grade”. The effect being that teachers are under pressure to move children quickly through the curriculum and there is much less tolerance for the child who is active and needs to move (predominantly boys).

Finally, in the last 30 years, our parenting culture has shifted from an emphasis on raising children who respect their parents to raising children who respect themselves. Consequently, our children are more confident, assertive, and willful. Add to this that the ways in which parents deal with conflict has shifted to using more and more communication and explaining instead of action consequences; the result is children who are stronger but more difficult to control. This lack of effective boundaries also stunts a child’s capacity for intimacy and promotes feelings of anger and isolation. (For more on this see my book Raising Lions or my blog ‘The Beautiful Tyrant’.)

Add these three factors together and we can see how boys are slowly being marginalized at our schools and consequently within our culture.

Here are some practical steps parents can take to bring back our boys:

• Move all computers into the public areas of the house. This will prevent a lot of your children’s ability/desire to watch porn. And use a porn filter to make it more difficult when you’re not home.

• Place a limit on video gaming time. Between 2 to 4 hours a week at most. Let your child choose how to divvy up the time.

• Encourage activities that aren’t virtual: Building projects, theater, Cub & Boy Scouts, sports and playing outside.

• Watch the TED talk by Gever Tulley “5 dangerous things you should let your kids do” then do these with your sons.

• Advocate for, and encourage, your sons to write about and express what they find interesting, even if it involves weapons, battles, and things being blown up.

• Learn to set action consequences instead of giving information in response to problem behavior.

• Create real jobs for your children to do that support the daily functioning of your home. This goes beyond traditional chores to include learning to make dinner, changing light bulbs, doing dishes or laundry, spending a day painting the kitchen with Mom and/or Dad. This can contribute greatly to your child feeling a sense of responsibility and connection to his immediate community.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators, and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at

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