Boys in Middle School and High School
In my second book Boys Adrift, I focus on the challenges facing boys as they progress from childhood through adolescence to adulthood. I have been a medical doctor for more than 20 years. In the past ten years, I have noticed that more and more boys are having trouble successfully negotiating the transition to adulthood. The boy who was engaged with school, and doing well, in 4th and 5th grade, is bored and disengaged as a 10th grader. He no longer cares about getting good grades. He’s more considered about getting to the Kilimanjaro round in Halo.
In this post I would like to zero in on one of the major challenges which boys face today, a challenge which really didn’t exist 30 years ago or in any previous era. That challenge is: valuing the real world above the virtual world. Parents who were born before 1970 tend to assume that real-world accomplishment is more important than accomplishment in the virtual world. That’s an assumption which many teenage boys simply don’t share. Mom asks her son Justin whether he’s ready for his Spanish exam tomorrow. Justin says he doesn’t care, he’s more interested in the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW). Mom reminds him that WoW is “just a video game” – his grade on the Spanish exam is more important than how he’s doing in some video game, right? After all, colleges care about grades, but colleges don’t care about how well you do in WoW.
Justin doesn’t agree. Doing well on the Spanish exam will not raise his status in the eyes of other boys. In fact, getting good grades is now seen as UNmasculine by many American boys – another troubling change in our society which I discuss at length in Boys Adrift. If Justin does do well on the Spanish exam, he may not even want other guys to know about it. On the other hand, becoming an officer in WoW will definitely raise his status in the eyes of many other boys in his grade. Teenagers care about social status. Accomplishment in the virtual world of video games raises your status in the eyes of other boys. Accomplishment in the real world of school and grades may not raise your status – it may even lower your status.
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. © 2006 NASSPE
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