Boys in Middle School and High School (page 2)
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.
Even stranger, in the eyes of the parents, is the way many teenage boys today are engaged in online pornography. The 2007 comedy movie Superbad – the most successful teen movie of 2007, with more than $120 million in box office receipts in the United States – begins with an extended dialogue between the two leading characters, teenage boys, discussing the merits of various online porn sites. A generation ago, a similar movie might have opened with boys arguing the comparative merits of two pretty girls in the real world. Now it’s all about porn sites in the virtual world. The second most successful comedy movie overall in 2007 was Knocked Up. The male lead in Knocked Up has only one occupation: creating an online porn site. (The most successful comedy movie in 2007 was The Simpsons Movie).
The challenge for parents, and for their sons, is to value the real world above the virtual world. That means, among other things, that parents must be involved in issues such as what video games their sons play, and how much time they spend playing those games. That question is a major focus of chapter 3 of Boys Adrift. In order to enforce those rules, you must help to create a community of like-minded parents: that’s the emphasis of the two closing chapters of Boys Adrift. Without that community, it’s impossible to enforce those rules. You may have limits on playing video games in your own home, but your son will just go to his friend’s house to play, where your rules are not enforced.
It’s easy for parents to be confused on these issues. After all, many respected people and foundations are actually pushing the virtual world on teenagers. In one particularly egregious example, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced that they are providing $50 million to help bring video games into the classroom. Their reasoning can be summarized this way:
· Many students are not motivated to learn.
· Many of those same students (particularly boys) love to play video games.
· So, if we turn learning into a video game, boys will want to learn.
This syllogism is fallacious; but more importantly, it fails to grasp that the central challenge facing American boys in the 21st century is precisely in learning to value the real world above the virtual world.
Leonard Sax, MD, PhD
Executive Director, NASSPE
19710 Fisher Avenue, Suite J
Poolesville, MD 20837
Telephone: 301 461 5065
Reprinted with the permission of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. © 2006 NASSPE
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