In some areas of American life, girls are doing worse and in some areas boys are doing worse. In the aggregate, however, we can now see males doing worse than females in so many areas of cognitive, emotional, mental and physical health that a focus on boys is very necessary. To see the issues that males face today, you might want to get The War Against Boys, by Christina Hoff Sommers, or Saving Our Sons, by Michael Gurian. You can also visit www.understandingboys.org/Pell to peruse the latest statistics from The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity In Higher Education, collected by Senior Fellow Tom Mortenson, who has been studying gender patterns for forty years. http://www.edweek.org/media/every100girls-32boys.pdf.
The issues boys face in America are a tip of the iceberg. The World Health Organization just published an international study noting their surprise that physical and mental health markers for males have now surpassed females in negative outcomes worldwide. The authors noted, “In most parts of the world, health outcomes among boys and men continue to be substantially worse than among girls and women, yet this gender-based disparity in health has received little national, regional or global acknowledgement or attention from health policy-makers or health-care providers. Including both women and men in efforts to reduce gender inequalities in health as part of the post-2015 sustainable development agenda would improve everyone’s health and well-being.” To learn more, visit (http://www.who.int/bulletin/volumes/92/8/13-132795/en/)
As we can see on the “For Every One Hundred Girls” study by Tom Mortenson, on www.understandingboys.org/Foreveryonehundredgirls, the boy crisis is not a myth. Mortenson has been studying gender data for 40 years, and his research has been corroborated by a number of our Advisory Board members, including Christina Hoff Sommers, at the American Enterprise Institute, Warren Farrell, Chair of the Commission to Create a White House Council on Boys and Men, and Michael Gurian, author of Saving Our Sons.
While the boy crisis is not new nor a myth, the article you mentioned provides a good jumping off point for understanding the difficulty we have in advocating holistically for boys today. For many people in universities, the government, and the media, it is ideologically important to approach boys’ issues from a viewpoint that minimizes male need. “When I read ‘research’ claiming there is no boy crisis,” says Dr. Gurian, “I generally find four things in the report or article that make it suspect:
- “First, I notice that the authors have provided a ‘meta-analysis’ rather than a full science-based data-analysis. This approach allows them to create a ‘study’ that is not a full study but, rather, a way of cherry picking data from among existing studies to maneuver ‘facts’ to fit their initial idea. In the case of ‘the boy crisis is a myth’, the cherry picking will involve arguing that, ultimately, there is very little male need in the U.S. because boys and men have intrinsic privilege in comparison to girls and women.”
- “Second, I follow the meta-analysis to see if the authors of the ‘study’ claim that any potential difficulties our boys face today are not caused by sex/gender but instead, by race or economic status alone. In this analysis, the study authors argue that a few boys—mainly boys of color—are having problems, but not white boys. When I find that argument made–as it is in the Time.com article—I know the researchers and writers have come at the boy crisis with a minimizing intention.
“Boys of color in the aggregate are indeed doing worse than white boys, but the ideological premise—that, therefore, girls in general, including white girls, are doing worse than boys in general, especially white boys, is false. Had the authors read all the studies available, including Mortenson’s and the WHO’s, they would not notice that even white, educated males, in the aggregate, are behind white educated females in literacy, motivation, education, personal safety, parental leave, child custody, and other areas; white males are also more likely than white females to suffer from violence, imprisonment, excessive punishment, autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, substance abuse, suicide, misdiagnosis of brain disorders, and many other areas of distress.
“So, while many white males are doing very well, and while many white males do better than many boys of color, it is not factual that there is no boy crisis because white boys are doing better than white girls. The boy crisis is real across races and socio-economic status.
- “Third, I look to see what cause of male distress is articulated in the article. At some point, every article or study that argues there is no boy crisis must, still, answer the intuitive question most readers will have, ‘But I know that boys are having difficulties, so please tell me why?’ Generally, in a cherry-picked meta-analysis, the answer is some version of, ‘If boys are behind, it is because they are given masculine messages in a male-dominated culture that denigrates reading, studying, school work, and everything that is not hyper-masculine.’ The cause, then, of male suffering becomes the other side of the ‘males have inherent male and masculine privilege’ coin: ‘any issues males and females face in our masculine-dominated society are caused by masculine stereotypes that impede male and female social-emotional and qualitative growth.’
“Once I see that argument, I know we are on ideological not science-based ground. While it is important to talk about masculine privilege (there are many males of all colors who have masculine privilege and many white males have a great deal of white privilege) it is too thin to explain all the issues boys or girls face today. The authors of the idea, too, know this, and so they do not try to prove it–given that it is not scientifically provable. Instead, they simply state it and let it be believed because it is repeated.”
The boy crisis is quite real and knowledge of the boy crisis is not new. Newsweek did a cover story on the problem in 2006 and Judith Kleinfeld, from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, the founder of the Boys Project, presented the boy crisis findings to the George Bush White House shortly thereafter. Even the U.S. Department of Justice has been tracking the crisis via statistics on increases in violence not just in urban areas dominated by boys of color but also new violence among white males.
The boy crisis includes race and socioeconomic distress while also being a “male/boy problem” far beyond “masculinity.” This is true throughout the industrial world, as ongoing PISA, OECD, and WHO data has shown over the last fifteen years (see, for instance, the WHO study in the FAQ above).
The National Center welcomes all opinions and ideas regarding the health and success of boys. We are acutely aware of the dangers of hyper-masculine stereotyping and male privilege, but our research also calls us to ask researchers and reporters to see more deeply than simple ideologies into the complex crisis males face today. Until we fully see the boy crisis, we will not be able to work toward successful solutions for all of our children—male, female, and across the gender spectrum.
No. What was true a hundred or more years ago (i.e., many resources did not go to girls, leaving them behind, while many boys flourished) is no longer true. While there is always room for improvement for both genders, a focus on boys is actually one way of helping both boys and girls. The old paradigm in which, if boys get help, girls will suffer, no longer applies to our nation’s classrooms. In the new paradigm, if both boys and girls get help, both will gain in engagement, achievement, and a positive school culture.
The Gurian Institute research has shown this over the last two decades. Please see www.gurianinstitute.com/success. The Institute team discovered that when teachers are trained in boy-friendly strategies, girls’ test scores, grades, and behavioral markers go up, as well. Dr. Gurian explains: “In our research we discovered one hidden reason for this dually positive finding. Before the boy-friendly interventions, we found that teachers were spending 10 to 15 minutes per class period in classroom management issues, most of which involved the disengagement and acting out of boys. This created a culture that not only kept boys from learning but impeded girls’ learning, as well. Once the school culture–and classroom teaching style–changed to include gender-based and boy-friendly theory and strategies, classroom management time went down significantly. This opened up more time for learning among both genders.”
As Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Why Gender Matters, has pointed out, “Schools have become far more girl friendly than boy friendly in the last few decades. This is good for girls but not as good for boys” Dr. Michael Thompson, co-author of Raising Cain, goes further: “In many schools and neighborhoods, boys are treated like defective girls.” He is pointing out the confusions so many adults in our present-day school, parenting, and community systems bring to “boy energy” and the way boys learn and grow. We often misunderstand it and over-punish or over-medicate it. In many neighborhoods, our difficulty serving boys leads to a school-to-prison pipeline.
What was true a hundred years ago is, in most areas of culture, no longer true, but our educational systems and university schools of education have not yet caught up to the social change. Dr. Gurian, a father of two daughters, has called for a social revolution on behalf of boys “that will also continue to help girls–the genders are all intertwined; if one is failing as boys are, girls cannot fully succeed.” In your own school and community, you can study the data for males and females by contacting your local Health District and exploring your school district’s websites.
Ask for data disaggregated for gender. As you read it, you might find your own community within the national trend: classrooms are very verbal and relatively non-kinesthetic, thus they favor girls in the aggregate. You’ll see this in grades, test scores, and discipline referrals. This trend has actually existed nationwide since the early 1980s but only recently has our culture begun to see how desperate boys’ lives are becoming.
Why should a married woman who has only female children support the Center? It’s hard enough for women to gain equality without giving boys and men another leg up.
The work of the Center is not a “leg up” but a way of helping all children so that all children can succeed. Because boys are consistently falling behind at an alarming rate in the U.S., girls’ lives are negatively affected. Signs of this decline include increased failure rates among males as future husbands and fathers of our children; in classrooms, classroom management time (mostly to help languishing boys) usurps learning time for girls; in neighborhoods, we see males becoming increasingly violent and dangerous. A number of the friends of the Center, such as the therapist Dr. Adie Goldberg, who has three daughters, has seen how every male who is hurting or failing can harm the trajectory of girls. The passionate cause of helping boys is as urgent for her and other parents of daughters because female safety and empowerment cannot happen when millions of boys are failing to succeed.
My son is glued to the computer, Tablet, Smartphone, and gaming equipment. What is your advice for dealing with young boys and these devices?
Screens of all kinds can become addictive to a child even if they are not considered addictive in the clinical sense. The instant gratification of the phone, table, or videogame infiltrates the brain’s dopamine reward system. As the brain gets an instant “charge” from reading a text, looking at a social media post, succeeding in a video game, or doing work on a Tablet without much effort, the natural process of brain development can be disrupted.
The child’s brain, all the way through and beyond adolescence, is naturally templated to develop through many slower, more “difficult” interactions with its environment. The brain builds better, stronger, and more varied social-emotional pathways, for instance, through a more “natural” kind of learning and life than excessive use of screens and social media allows.
Most of us sense this, but it’s hard to know the line between healthy and unhealthy screen time for our particular child. Often, rules of thumb develop but are difficult to enforce (life gets busy, and stuff slips through the cracks). And, of course, there is a lot of pressure on kids to use devices from other kids, schools, and even parents themselves (unwittingly perhaps) as devices are used and modeled for children at the dining room table.
Three books on boys do a great job of laying out some rules of thumb, as well as the science behind the suggestions. These are: Raising Boys by Design (2011), by Gregory Jantz and co-authors; Saving Our Sons (2017) by Michael Gurian; and Boys Adrift (2014), by Leonard Sax. Each of these books provides science-based suggestions from different angles. They support:
- very little or no screen time for children under two;
- few or no video games for kids on school nights;
- all devices kept in public spaces in the home rather than in the kids’ room;
- no use of screens/devices for at least an hour before bedtime;
- limited screen time (Tablet, TV, Computer, Phone) on weekdays with an emphasis, during that use, on educational programming; and
- no phones for kids until parents absolutely can’t resist giving the child a phone any longer (hopefully around 12 or 13 years old or older).
Meanwhile, each expert also suggests limiting our adult use of screens, especially phones, in front of children, especially at “family times” like the dinner table, road trips, family game nights, etc. Excessive adult use of screens sets kids up to over-use screens in an “addictive” way during childhood and later in life.
I teach at a college. We now know that American college demographics and success rates skew female, with women earning more BA, MAs, and Ph.Ds in the aggregate. Yet the orthodoxy in college campuses is that males are doing better. There are many reasons the academic world holds to this orthodoxy, most of them having to do with past cultural history. What do you suggest those of us on college campuses do to help young men today in a way that will not harm young women’s achievement trajectories?
There is a short answer to this, which will follow here, but this question is such a big one, we suggest these books for even more assistance: The War Against Boys by Christina Hoff Sommers, Ph.D., Boys Adrift, by Leonard Sax, M.D., The Myth of Male Power by Warren Farrell, Ph.D., and Saving Our Sons, by Dr. Michael Gurian. These books give in depth analysis of the cultural trends that have developed in the last fifty years which do still, in some ways, leave women behind, but in most ways, now, involve the systemic loss of males in our K – 12 and higher education systems.
What was true fifty years ago is only true now in certain pockets of the culture. As the question noted, young women are ahead of young men in nearly every discipline in college (with fields like mechanical engineering the exceptions). The illusion that males are succeeding and females failing in college grows mainly from the obvious success of a number of males at the very top of government and corporate life. Presidents, legislators, and CEOs are predominantly male: it is publicly assumed–and supported ideologically in many schools and colleges–that, therefore, males as a group are ahead of females as a group. As the books listed above have shown, for every alpha male who succeeds there are numerous males who do not.
A short list of things we must do to reshape college campuses are these:
- Ask the college administrators to disaggregate data by gender for the college. Once this is done, you will have access to grades, test scores, dropout rates, and matriculation rates by gender. In most colleges, this data will show greater female success and less male success. With this data in hand, you can begin to reshape the conversation on campus.
- Lead discussion groups that take on extreme ideologies on campus, including ideologies that attack males as constant micro-aggressors against females, and females as constant victims of males. One of the primary reasons males drop out of college is their feeling of being devalued and embattled on for no other tangible “sin” except that they are male.
- Fight for women’s rights openly and fairly. Where women are suffering privation, come to their aid; gender is not a zero sum cultural construct. If men help women, women are more likely to see through their negative stereotypes of males and come to understand the profound needs of males, as well.
- Carry on discussions of gender equality that include analysis of choice-making rather than just money. Most progressive gender equity conversations end before they begin because it is indisputable that, in the aggregate, males in America make more money than females. Choice is power, too, however, and women are now choosing to live lives they want to live. Some of those lives are not measurable by personal aggregate worth.
- In schools of Education and Psychology, advocate for classes in male/female brain difference. Tens of thousands of studies worldwide show significant differences between male and female brains. These differences do not compel traditional gender roles on the genders but they do influence child-raising, learning, counseling, coaching, mentoring, and every other field of child nurturance. However, our colleges rarely teach this material, thus, our teachers, coaches, mentors, government officials, journalists, and parents leave college without learning the science of children’s lives. Huge systemic mistakes ensue in a society built on ideology not science.
- Finally, form book study and advocacy groups that become empowered to lobby college administrators for a Male Studies department commensurate with existing Women’s Studies departments. These departments will be cross-disciplinary and can inform research in all fields, from education to engineering, psychology to business. With these departments and their classes providing leading edge research in male development and male/female dynamics across the gender spectrum, colleges will advance into the new millennium.
How can elementary teachers foster aggression nurturance on the playground? For instance, what should they do when boys pick up sticks and start to sword fight? What should they do when boys start horsing around?
As a clinician and researcher, Dr. Michael Gurian states that the ultimate practical answers lie in the word “danger.” If a child is in danger, then a teacher must intervene immediately. But if there is no danger, then the rough play is generally useful in developing resilience, social-emotional skill, empathy, bonding, attachment, and problem-solving. Thus, he suggests the teacher practice a non-interventionist policy as much as possible. This doesn’t mean curtailing one’s own instincts to intervene–adult instincts are powerful and useful–but it will mean ending the popular assumption in our culture that “touch” and “aggressive play” are dangerous in themselves.
Just the opposite. When kids pick up sticks and start to sword fight, or when they horse around, wrestle, jump on each other, and even challenge each other by seeming to hurt one another, they are generally building up specific social-emotional and other centers and pathways in the brain. A scientific approach is best, one in which we practice “citizen science” by using our own empirical observations as adults to tell us whether there is a pattern of bullying in a particular set of interactions, or whether what is happening is actually “challenge nurturance” and “aggression nurturance”–healthy and important to child development.
We will likely find that in most cases, it is healthy. In these cases, our best role is to let the children mature one another through the activities–even when some of them are painful activities–then be there for the children afterward to process anything leftover from the experience. For instance, a more sensitive boy or girl may not have had as much fun as a more naturally aggressive boy or girl during a challenging interaction, so we can help this child to process and learn from the aggressive nurturance. And we can help all the children expand their vision of what happened during the interaction, if needed. Again, in most cases, this can occur after the interactions rather than occurring in such a way as to stop the children from having the interactions that are, often, their best teachers.
To move to this kind of whole child approach, we will need to keep in mind that “aggression” and “violence” are not the same thing. Aggression is healthy; violence is unhealthy. Aggression can be just as nurturing as talking about feelings; violence is a learned behavior that is, in most cases, a way of dominance and destruction we do not want to teach children. Our culture has confused aggression and violence and, thus, has somewhat devastated the natural frameworks of child development, especially male development, that existed to help mature males in the past.
The goal of childhood is not comfort, after all; it is maturation. As Dr. Gurian has discovered in his research, “Through a childhood filled with aggression and problem-solving the neural pathways between the limbic brain and the frontal cortex grow and mature; without kinesthetic and playful aggression between children, these pathways are less likely to mature.” We adults exist in the lives of the children in our care to help them mature by developing resilient selves, and emotional boundaries. To develop these things, our children must face challenge and aggression head on.
That said, the maturation process is not meant to be Lord of the Flies or child-centered chaos. It involves adults compelling apologies between children when apologies are needed; teaching children adult values; teaching children to use words some of the time rather than bodies; helping children direct their anger to punching bags and inanimate objects rather than anything living; helping children becoming increasing self-aware by reflecting back to them how the play looked and felt to the adult; helping children self-regulate when they “go too far,” and being there for them with hugs or band aids when hurts and pains occur. And always, of course, we must remain vigilant. When actual bullying occurs (violence) our adult intervention must be immediate and useful to the maturation of both the victim and bully.
Once teachers are trained in boy-friendly education, they often want to change their hyper-reactivity to aggression nurturance on the playground. However, as they remember that the school can get sued by parents if any child gets hurt, they are paralyzed to institute boy-friendly changes to school policy. What should the school do in this situation?
First, any Zero Tolerance policies for physical touch/play need to be rescinded. While zero tolerance for bullying (actual violence) is generally needed in order to have a safe school, a zero tolerance for aggression will lead to boys hating school and girls not learning all of the problem solving and resilience they can learn from one another and from boys.
Second, whenever a teacher training on the subject occurs, it is crucial that as many parents as possible in the community are also provided with keynotes, training, and resources to better understand the line between healthy aggression and violence/bullying. Parents and teachers need to be on the same page in terms of this vision of child development or one group will fight against the other and the system won’t change.
If, however, a profound conversation occurs among teachers and parents about aggression nurturance, the third part of the process can generally occur: testimonials to the school board or other governing bodies to make policy changes that may be needed in order to protect the school from lawsuits that overreact to a child’s discomfort. New policies will need to be written that redefine “hurt” and “harm” to describe actual trauma rather than discomfort or emotional reaction.
This means, for instance, that my child coming home from school crying is reason to ask the teacher his/her point of view on a day’s interaction rather than a reason to immediately dub the school unsafe. My child’s tears are, thus, a “community moment” among adults attuned to the child–a moment that can increase the child’s maturation–rather than an assumed danger to the child. As always, of course, actual violence, bullying, or abuse will be subject to zero tolerance; most other interactions, however, will become case-by-case and community tools for child maturation rather than reason for litigation.
The Gurian Institute (www.gurianinstitute.com) was the first organization to nationally codify boy-friendly success strategies into professional development programs, then teach them to educators, parents, and community members in school and community pilots around the world. From their efforts over the last two decades, success data has developed using test scores, grades, and discipline referrals as statistical markers.
This process began in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1996 and included a two-year pilot in six school districts; it then expanded into every state and numerous other countries. To learn more about the success data, you can read Boys and Girls Learn Differently and Saving Our Sons, as well as visit www.gurianinstitute.com/success.
Other organizations have also been generating data to show the efficacy of boy-friendly strategies.
I read an article recently that argued there is no scientific basis for saying there are male brains and female brains or that we should teach toward either boys or girls. Where do I find studies that prove a difference?
A list of the following books prove the difference using brain science: Boys and Girls Learn Differently, by Michael Gurian; Why Gender Matters, by Leonard Sax, and The Female Brain and The Male Brain, by Louann Brizendine. This is such a complex subject, we suggest books rather than blogs or articles for resolution of questions about it.
As you are researching this, you can also immediately click www.michaelgurian.com/Research, where you’ll find more than 1,000 clinical and science-based studies showing male/female brain difference. As Dr. Gurian has noted, “The male and female brain are different because the X and Y chromosomes are different. Thus, patterns of male/female brain difference exist in all cultures, in all races, and on all continents.”
Meanwhile, gender fluidity–the idea that anyone can “feel” like any gender at any time–is a part of the fabric of our contemporary culture and a healthy way of expanding our consciousness about the male and female brain. There is a vast spectrum of female and male brains, with some people who feel and act quite masculine and quite feminine and others who will say, “I think a lot of the time I feel more like her or more like him.” This kind of expanded self-awareness will no doubt continue throughout our human future.
But gender fluidity as a psycho-sociological concept does not change the male/female brain. “Gender fluidity” and “male/female brain” are, thus, different subjects. From a science-based viewpoint, although they both connect with sex and gender, they are, in some ways, apples and oranges.
Male/female brain difference is biological and biochemical–wired into the brain from before birth. Males, for instance, process language on the left side of the brain and females on both sides of the brain. That brain biology–or brain sex— is not malleable or fluid. On the other hand, the way one feels emotionally about one’s own gender at any given moment is a matter of social psychology in the individual.
So, the “apples” are sex (biology) and the “oranges” are gender (emotions). Even transgender males and females fit on the male/female brain spectrum–brain scans show a more masculinized brain in a female body for a transgender male and a more feminized brain in a male body for a transgender female.
Overall, it should be noted that there is no argument among scientists who have significantly studied the human brain for sex/gender about whether male and female brains differ. Drs. Sandra Witelson, Daniel Amen, Louann Brizendine, Larry Cahill, Ruben and Raquel Gur, Richard Haier, and many others in the field have studied hundreds of thousands of brain scans and proven male/female difference. When you hear someone say, “that is all junk science…there’s no difference between male/female brains,” you can be relatively sure these naysayers are not doing actual brain science–i.e. basing their “meta-analysis” on actual lab or field work; rather, they have political or ideological motive that requires them, very specifically, to avoid studying, hands-on, the brains of the females and males they are writing about.
The Answers in these FAQs have been developed by the National Center Research Team in collaboration with Dr. Michael Gurian and the Gurian Institute, 2017