Thursday, May 14, 2009
Boys Adrift - A Must Read for Anybody Who Knows and Loves a Boy
As the mother of two boys, this book has scared the hell out of me. In the book, Dr. Sax states that we are raising a generation of unmotivated, underachieving, disinterested and disengaged boys. Even more frightening is the fact that Dr. Sax cites studies indicating that boys today have half the sperm count that boys did in the 1940's, and that they are going through puberty much later than earlier generations. There are many reasons for this, according to Dr. Sax, but the factors he discusses that hit closest to home were changes in the educational system, video games, and BPA in our food.
According to Dr. Sax, the acceleration of our educational system, resulting in kindergarten being what first grade was decades ago, has harmed boys immensely. Most five year old boys are simply not ready or able to sit quietly and learn to read as they are expected to do in today's society. As a result, the boys are placed on the slow track. The boys pick up on the fact that they are not in the "smart group" and start to dislike school. This dislike of school carries through the grades and results in disengagement and a lack of motivation. (Interestingly, the Finnish educational system has consistently ranked as the best in the world. Finland does not start to formally educate their children until the age of seven.) Dr. Sax also points to the abolition of competition in schools as significantly harming boys, as the lack of competition has taken away one of the main forces which drive boys to succeed.
Another factor causing boys' disengagement from, and disinterest in, the real world is video game playing. The chapter on video games is dense and full of facts, so I won't delve to deeply into it here, but one fact that I found alarming is that studies have found that video games containing violence have the same effect on a boy's brain as do the drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD, which drugs Dr. Sax also blames for the problems boys are experiencing today. One thing to note, Dr. Sax mentions that there is no distinction between "good" violence, i.e. where the player is a policeman killing a bad guy, and "bad" violence. Violence is violence, pure and simple, and all violent video games have the same effect on a boy's developing brain.
The chapter that scared me the most and has kept me up several nights this week is the chapter about the presence of BPA in our food. According to Dr. Sax, BPA, which is found in plastics such as those used for water bottles, acts like the hormone estrogen in males. Needless to say, estrogen in a young boy's body wreaks havoc on his system. BPA has even been found in the bloodstream of newborn males, indicating that pregnant and nursing mothers who ingest BPA are passing it on to their offspring. And the problem cannot be solved by merely quitting your bottled water habit. Look around, and you will realize that plastic touches most of the foods we eat. Cardboard milk cartons? Lined with plastic. Deli paper used for meats? Ditto. Most canned foods are housed in cans that have a plastic liner containing BPA. We use plastic containers at home to store leftovers. Our children drink out of plastic sippy cups.
So what do we do? I have not yet worked out what to do about the state of our educational system. Dr. Sax advocates for same-sex schooling, which really isn't an option for our family. But as for video games, I am going to keep a much closer eye on what my 10-year old is doing on the computer and completely ban those games that contain the slightest hint of violence. I find the plastics issue much more difficult to deal with, but what I have done so far is I have thrown away all of our plastic cups, plates and bottles. I plan to buy glass food storage containers. Absolutely no microwaving food in plastic is allowed. No more water bottled in plastic bottles. And I plan to drastically cut the amount of food we buy in cans and research those companies that use BPA-free linings.
For more information on Boys adrift, visit http://www.boysadrift.com/.