At some point – soon I am hoping – feminists are going to realize they have solved all the problems they set out to solve for girls and we can turn our attention to real problem now facing society: the boy crisis.
I think we are so unprepared to see the problems right in front of our eyes. When I interviewed Dr. Warren Farrell, author of The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys are Struggling And What We Can Do About It, I asked him to start by identifying the problems facing boys.
It really is apparent that it is a first world problem: Farrell says that in 70 developed nations, boys have fallen behind girls in tests of knowledge.
We have a generation of boys being raised that will have less education than their fathers. We have boys disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD, living in their parents’ basements with no purpose, addicted to video games, addicted to pornography, addicted to drugs, and in the extreme committing suicide and homicide.
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The crisis of school shootings is not about access to guns. Girls have just as much access to guns and they aren’t the ones we keep seeing on the news. School shootings are happening because something is going on with the boys.
Farrell says all these conditions are linked by one factor common to all developed nations: The breakdown of the family through divorce. We are now learning that the loss of dad in a boy’s life has a profound impact on his social development. The way Farrell describes it, moms are hard-wired to protect their children from harm and are more likely to relax boundaries. Dad’s roughhousing may irritate mom – “someone’s going to get hurt!” – but it is a vital way to teach children about risk and to test their own limits at an early age. Whereas mom might be willing to give their son ice cream even if he doesn’t finish his peas, dad will tell his son he has to live up to the deal to clean his plate before getting dessert. It may seem like a small matter, but this daily setting of expectations and interactions makes all the difference.
(I asked Farrell if these roles apply to same-sex couples and he said there hasn’t been enough research on it, but he suspects we’d find the same pattern – that one parent is the nurturer and the other is more of the traditional father role.)
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When a marriage breaks down, and the boy loses that daily dad influence, he loses the crucial experiences that allow him to develop self-discipline. Without self-discipline it leads to problems of focus, motivation and purpose, and poor school performance. In the case of a bad marriage breakup, where the boy continuously hears his mom constantly criticizing his dad, he can also develop self-loathing which can manifest in self-harm and harming others.
Add to this problem the decline of male educators in the school system and boys are left with fewer mentors in their lives to show them the pathway for how to become a man.
I don’t foresee a change in society that will suddenly result in fewer divorces. So that means we are going to have to develop workarounds to ensure boys get what they need to develop in a healthy way.
Before we can figure out what those solutions are, we first need to be prepared to acknowledge we’ve got a crisis with boys. And it’s a problem that grows bigger every day we avoid talking about it.
Danielle Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org