Why is there a “boy crisis?”

by Joseph Cohen, President and co-founder, Empowered Fathers in Action (EFA) Foundation

Why would the Chair of the Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men, a Ph.D. who has written books published in 17 languages including two award-winning international bestsellers, declare a “boy crisis?”

Why is ADHD in boys on the rise? And why are boys fifty percent less likely than girls worldwide to meet basic proficiency in reading, math, and science? 

What has caused boys to grow up with less involved fathers? And why are they more likely to drop out of school, drink, do drugs, and end up in prison? Why has suicide rates of boys and young men tripled compared to young women?  

Is it possible that a boys’ old sense of purpose — being a warrior, leader, or a sole breadwinner — is fading? Has this caused many bright boys to experience a “purpose void,” feeling alienated, withdrawn and addicted to immediate gratification?

“Any help given to boys is often seen as taking away from helping girls,” according to Leonard Sax, MD, Ph.D. He wrote the New York Times bestselling Boys Adrift and Why Gender Matters, and endorsed The Boy Crisis.

“Farrell helps us to understand why if boys lose, girls lose as well. But what boys need to flourish is different from what girls need to flourish.” 

Getting to the Root Cause

For the past fifty years, there has been an ongoing national discussion about the challenges faced by girls and women. They have made indisputable strides from the corporate world to the athletic arena and many sectors in between. It is critical to integrate an equally nuanced discussion about boys.

Supporting both genders while helping boys to flourish begins with understanding why boys are struggling. This will get to the root cause of the problems and provide sustainable solutions. 

Exploring the crisis of boys’ mental and physical health includes looking at the challenges they face in education and economics.  It begins by answering the important question of why have we been so blind?

School shootings are homicides, but they can also on some level be considered suicides. Even if the troubled gun totting boy survives the incident, his quality of life has come to an end. Any shooting is a tragic misfortune impacting families and society on many levels. Two factors must be considered to get to the root of the problem and provide a sustainable solution. The boys’ troubled state of mind prior to the incident and the circumstances in his life that caused it. 

According to Additional Facts About Suicide in the US published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, by 2015 boys and men were committing suicide three and a half times more often than women. Getting to the root cause of what Farrell describes as “feeling depressed and isolated because he feels no one who knows the real him loves him, no one needs him and there’s no hope of that changing” begins with exploring the early relationship he has had with his parents and then looking closely at the bond he currently has with his father. 

Sustainable Solutions

“Any child can be made into a psychopath through the failure of attachment,” according to Elliott Barker, M.D., D. Psych and director of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. “We have to change a lot of established patterns or ways we do things — our priorities— so that nothing gets in the way of attachment in the earliest years.” 

The concept of attachment is fundamental to understanding early social development. An infant needs to develop a strong mutual relationship of communication and receive sensitive responses from a mother or primary caregiver for normal social or emotional development to occur.

A neglectful or dysfunctional primary relationship will result in a child’s inability to form healthy future relationships. “One of the most fundamental roles of a mother is to instill in her child a sense of feeling good enough,” says Linda Olson, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and founder of  Georgia Childhood Domestic Violence Association.   “A lack of maternal nurturing can later manifest in low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.” She explains that the reason many boys walk around feeling “less than” even though they have many accomplishments under their belt is because feeling unimportant or insignificant is buried deep in the subconscious.

Mindfulness is one of the methods Dr. Olson uses with her patients to address low self-esteem and a lack of confidence. It is an approach that fosters nonjudgemental thinking and the acceptance of any emerging thoughts and urges. When an individual begins observing and describing their feelings (such as anger or anxiety) it helps to rewire their brain leading to recreating neural pathways in the brain and leads to improved self-esteem.  

Joseph Cohen is a former New York city public school teacher and journalist who recently published Write Father, Write Son : A Bond-Building Journey.

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