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Book Review: Boys Adrift (Part 1)

The Perseus Books Group kindly sent me a complimentary copy of Dr. Leonard Sax’s book titled Boys Adrift for review. As with his previous book Why Gender Matters (my review here and here), I thoroughly enjoyed reading Boys Adrift. I find myself agreeing with many things he’s written. The thesis of this book is that many of today’s boys in America are unmotivated and lazy because of five key factors: our model of education, video games, medications for ADHD, endocrine disruptors, and loss of positive role models. All these five factors are fascinating and because I want to provide a judicious review of this book, my review will be split into two posts.

First Factor: Changes at School

According to Dr. Sax, the 21st century classrooms have moved towards a more knowledge based versus experiential based teaching philosophy, which resulted in rigorous academics in the early years. This change mostly impacted the boys because the all day sit-down pencil-and-paper routine is not hospitable to the boys’ natural inclination to be active and creative. Research has shown that boys’ brain development is simply not ready for the rigorous academics typified in modern kindergarten in their early years.

To address these challenges, Dr. Sax suggests that parents can choose to delay their boys’ enrollment by one year if the assigned school requires children to read and write in kindergarten. This option allows a boy’s brain to further develop so to prepare him for the rigorous academics in the early years.

Parents can also research and find which school has a balance between knowledge-based and experience-based teaching methods that’s suitable for their boys. Children learn better in an environment that incorporates hands-on activities, such as assembling a circuit board to learn about electricity (p. 187).

Lastly, Dr. Sax suggests that if your child is doing poorly in school, enrolling him in a single-sex school, i.e. all boys school, is a possible solution. Boys tend to do better in such environment because there are no girls to impress. The single-sex school can be an environment that is more suitable for the boys. One example Dr. Sax provides is providing different options for sitting. Boys can choose to sit on a regular chair or at a different height, or on the floor, or not at all, as long as they are not distracting other students. The schools can also better implement competitive sports or games, which is vital to boys’ competitive nature.

While Dr. Sax’s suggestions are good, they tend to reflect the viewpoint of one whose main focus is reforming the existing institutional school system. I believe he has failed to provide a glance at another viable alternative to merely changing existing institutions, namely, homeschooling. After reading this chapter on the drawbacks of the modern school system, I was even further convinced that homeschooling is a great alternative to the traditional school because it provides individualized and customized learning. A parent has the most intimate knowledge of his/her child, and with careful thought can accommodate the learning environment to the child’s needs and preferences. In addition, many of the negative influences and stigmas that exist in today’s schools are mostly non-existent in a homeschool environment. I’d really like to see Dr. Sax do research in the home school community and see whether how the boys in this group fair. Of course, upon reading this chapter as well as when I read his other book Why Gender Matters, I can see ways I as a homeschool mom can seek to integrate his insights on schooling in a positive way as I educate my sons.

Second Factor: Video Games

Research has shown that more and more boys are immersed in countless hours of video games each day instead of doing their homework or interacting with real people or engaging in life. Dr. Sax explains that boys have an inner drive to gain power or control over a situation, and this appetite is easily accomplished and satiated by playing video games. Facing real life situations does not necessarily provide this sense of satisfaction, and consequently, many lose interest and motivation for facing up to the real life.

Dr. Sax proposes that parents should limit their boys’ time spent on video games but must redirect their time to real life interactions. It is crucial that the alternatives be more exciting and more real than the video games. I think this particular insight, while obvious, points to the underlying need that our young boys-evolving-into-men have of learning to become leaders and heads of household in the future, let alone statesmen and adventurers of various sorts. So the main lesson I draw from this insight is to be constantly on the look out for ways to tap into my sons’ God-given drive to exercise dominion, even in a Christ-like servant-hearted fashion.

Third Factor: Medications for ADHD

Today’s schools require five and six-year-olds to sit still for hours at a stretch, and since most boys have a difficult time with sitting still, many are prescribed medications for ADHD. Research done on animals show that ADHD medications can cause permanent damage to the nucleus accumbens in the brain that is responsible for translating motivation into action.

Interesting enough, both ADHD medications and excessive video game playing have the same effect on the nucleus accumbens. With a smaller nucleus accumbens, boys are less motivated and more apathetic.

As an alternative to jumping to medications when someone thinks your child has ADHD, Dr. Sax suggests that you should seek out a qualified professional to assess whether your child has ADHD. If the child indeed has ADHD after proper assessments and that you believe your child needs medication, Dr. Sax suggests to avoid the use of stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate, Focalin, and Daytrana. Instead, the child can use Strattera or Wellbutrin which is deemed as a safer alternative by Dr. Sax.

In these latter two factors (video games and ADHD medications), I believe there is a common element which the book barely mentions: a lack of faithful parenting. Dr. Sax only mentioned it ever so briefly when he quoted psychiatrist Jennifer Harris in regards to ADHD medications: “Many clinicians find it easier to tell parents their child has a brain-based disorder than to suggest parenting changes.” (p. 86) In effect, it is lot easier to medicate a child than to parent one. When it comes to dealing with excessive video games and ADHD medications, diligent and devoted parenting is crucial. This point should be highlighted and expounded upon, rather than be dealt with in a cursory manner.

To be continued…

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. Musings of the Dings » Book Review: Boys Adrift (Part 2) linked to this post on 19 September, 2007

    […] For Part 1 of this review, please go here. […]

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