Boys Adrift – Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.

26 Aug

Boys Adrift is about the current “Failure to Launch” phenomenon that has been pervading our society. It is an interesting book that takes into account several different factors. The thing that I really like about this book is the extensive research that has been done to back up his claims. Not only does he document every statement; his research coincides with other research that I personally have done regarding different and seemingly unrelated topics. Also, as a former teacher and current parent I have noticed a lot of the same trends. What is especially important about this book is that he doesn’t just point out the phenomenon, he also offers real-world solutions to the problems that many parents of boys are having.

He breaks down the cause of a boy’s “failure to launch” into manhood into five specific and different, but related causes:

  1. Changes at school
    • Accelerated pace of school in stark contrast to actual brain development. Kids are starting structured learning earlier, but their brains are not developing faster.
    • Wissenchaft and Kenntnis, or knowledge and experience. American schools focus on rote learning and failure to utilize the much needed experiential learning has left a large gap in total comprehensive learning and has left out those children (especially boys) that thrive on kinetic/experiential learning.
    • True competition has been removed from schools for the sake of “self-esteem”. Some boys need true competition, that is where 1. there are clear winners and losers, and 2. the outcome is in doubt/anyone can win.
  2. Video Games
    • Some boys are powered by what Sax terms “The Will to Power”, meaning that some individuals want to be in charge of their environment. Video games can provide this outlet, but at the expense of withdrawing from the real world.
    • Video games can cause a separations from reality. The boy’s motivation has switched from real life experiences to the game.
    • Video games also affect the brain (particularly the nucleus accumbens) in the same way that stimulant drugs such as Aderall and Ritalin do.
  3. Medications for ADHD
    • These stimulants cause damage to the nucleus accumbens that reduces drive and motivation.
    • Designating a deficiency in attention as a disease removes the assignment of responsibility from any person.
    • ADHD is most often “diagnosed” by a teacher who then persuades the parent to have the child evaluated. The teacher is not qualified to make such diagnosis es, nor for that matter, are most pediatricians.
  4. Endocrine Disruptors
    • More specifically, environmental estrogens that leech into our foods from plastic. [I know this sounds far-fetched, but I’ve seen this information on different medical sites and wildlife shows.]
    • Bisphenol A and PET (polyethylene terephthalate) cause disruptions in the sex hormones resulting in abnormal gender maturity (too early in girls and too delayed/nonexistent in boys). It can also cause problems with increased ADHD, obesity, infertility and genital malformations.
  5. Revenge of the Forsaken Gods
    • Here Sax is referring to our society’s failure to promote a socially acceptable and personally fulfilling “Right of Passage” for our children, especially boys.
    • He quotes Kenneth LaRoque, headmaster of Avon Old Farms in Connecticut, “You can’t assume that boys today know these things. Many of them don’t. But they can be taught. A boy does not naturally grow up to be a gentleman. You need a community of men showing boys how to behave.”
    • He points out that all enduring cultures have one thing in common; that is they pass on rules for what is expected of mature adults from one generation to the next in gender-separate communities.
    • Our society’s insistence on maintaining gender ambiguity is actually hurting us. This path leads to one of two ends: 1, the boy/man with no drive or motivation who becomes a leech on his family and society; or 2, the boy who seeks manhood but is led astray by hollywood/peers/society into embracing violence and abuse.

So what is a parent to do? As I said earlier, Dr. Sax offers some solutions. Some are easier to manage than others. After all, changing societal views is no easy task. But if we all do our part we can make a difference.

He, again, breaks his “detox” down into separate categories:

For education he suggests working with schools to change curriculum and policies.

Provide alternatives to video games that still supply the excitement and fulfill the “will to power”.

Resist the urge for the quick fix of stimulant drugs. Look for other problems that could be causing attention or performance problems at school and find the appropriate solution, be it an all-boys school or the ability to move around while working on class assignments.

Reduce or restrict plastic use. Sax suggests looking into PLA (polylactic acid) developed by Cargill and made from corn as a possible alternative. The trick is to convince businesses to switch their usage.

And finally, he urges us to “restore the bond between generations” and to seek out real/normal men who can be role models.

As you can see, his solutions are possible. Although some will require more effort and a rethinking of our values as a society. In the example of applying to schools to change their policies I can see some difficulty. As a former public school teacher this may be easier said than done. However, this is his solution for parents who are unable to find an adequate private school or homeschool. And as regards the endocrine disruptors, there are many other environmental estrogens we encounter, many of it from the food we eat (such as soy). Do your own research.

All in all, this was an excellent read, and a must read for any parent with a boy struggling.

Buy this book at


2 Responses to “Boys Adrift – Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.”

  1. Summer August 26, 2007 at 11:06 pm #

    That sounds like a great book. I might have to find a copy to read. We’re lucky to be homeschooling so that I don’t ahve to push my boys to do anything ahead of their brain growth.

  2. metaDAD September 6, 2007 at 10:14 am #

    “Raising Cain” is a wonderful chaser to this book. It was also made into a PBS documentary.

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