On The Air
Join Dr. Wes at 11 a.m. March 17 on KCUR FM or KCUR.org for Up to Date with Steve Kraske to talk more about how families can encourage strong boys, and take listener calls.
Wes: I’ve become increasingly concerned over the past decade about the direction boys are headed in our society. As but one example, and I have several, Fortune magazine ran an article last year putting statistics to something you can’t miss living and working with college students. Female graduates now account for 60 percent of U.S. bachelor’s degree holders. Young men enter college at a lower rate than women and drop out more often. Fortune magazine offers a financial explanation — that guys get discouraged when their debt load reaches $12,500 and somehow decide it makes more sense to leave school and start working full-time.
However, findings in the book “The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools,” fit much better with what I’m observing and why I’m a little anxious about the future of boys in our society. The authors note that boys now get lower grades in school than girls, and report liking school less due to societal norms that denigrate academic pursuits as un-masculine. They also found that boys have less understanding than girls of how their future success in college and work are linked to academic effort in middle and high school. You don’t have to tell me. I see it all the time.
In fact, I’m going to spell it out a little more clearly, based on thousands of hours talking with teens and young adults. Whether they realize it or not, teen girls are the granddaughters of feminism. They’ve been taught that they’re one down in society and that the only way they’ll ever get ahead is to scrap like hell. Boys are implicitly taught something quite different. I’m not even sure what it is because the message is so unclear, but it certainly isn’t anything about scrapping to get ahead. We hear a lot about the “entitled millennial.” While I see that characteristic in both genders, I find it to be far more impairing for boys.
I wouldn’t call it an “epidemic” — one of those cliché terms of alarm. But I would say it’s a trend, and the numbers are starting to prove it out. As with everything else, parents are not powerless to resist. Raising strong boys is the same as raising strong girls. You just have to teach them to scrap for what they get in life, and expect nothing to be handed to them that they have not earned themselves.
Kendra: As a self-proclaimed feminist, I see no harm in girls outperforming boys, except for the lack of attractive mates that results, yet I understand the implication for boys could be dangerous, just as Wes describes.
Without knowing the statistics, you could walk into an AP class and be led to the same conclusion: boys of my generation just don’t want to work hard. With obvious exceptions, even the males who opt to take AP classes neglect to do homework or study for tests in those classes.
As sexist as it sounds, I consistently see hard-working females and less diligent males. Even my school’s Student Council is primarily female-dominated. And with more strong female leaders, girls find it easier to step up into these positions, while the boys sit back.
I agree that boys are getting a different message. Kids of my generation are all taught, “You’re special,” a statement that is itself problematic. But I’ve found girls and boys often view this specialness differently. To girls, it means, “You’re special, so show everyone what you can do.” To boys, it means, “You’re already special, so you don’t really have to do anything.” I’m exaggerating this a bit for emphasis, but it’s not too far from the truth.
I understand what Wes means when he says he wants parents to raise “stronger boys,” but I would argue that parents should instill this strength by making boys aware of their weaknesses. Because as the feminist movement proves, sometimes you need to be knocked down a few pegs before you can come back tougher than ever.
— Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., ABPP, is author of “Dear Dr. Wes: Real Life Advice for Teens” and “Real Life Advice for Parents of Teens.” Learn about his practice Family Psychological Services at dr-wes.com. Kendra Schwartz is a Lawrence High School senior. Send your confidential 200-word question on adolescence and parenting to firstname.lastname@example.org. Double Take opinions and advice are not a substitute for psychological services.