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Book Review: “Boys Adrift” by Leonard Sax

by Benjamin Anderson 9. February 2009 19:08

“Boys Adrift” is a very interesting book discussing case studies and Dr. Sax’s theories on why so many young men and boys have little to no drive in life and in school.  Dr. Sax discusses ADHD and ADD, behavioral drugs, environment effects, teaching methods and even video games.

While I do agree with the ideas and premise behind Dr. Sax’s book, since many of the things he discusses are things I’ve observed and argued throughout my life, there are several things that he places too much weight on in the book.  Dr. Sax places heavy blame on video games during the book, devoting an entire chapter on it and then constantly referring back to his negative view on video games.  But, I believe that this is a blind spot and not an undoing for what Dr. Sax does have to say.  While those that know me will know that I’m an avid gamer, even though I’ve had very little time to play over the last 6 years or so, and I’ve always been a gamer.  I grew up with the game consoles.  I grew up with nearly every major console in my house, and I spent several hours a week playing video games growing up.  My favorites were role playing games, but I enjoyed all genres and would spend much of my money renting and buying video games.  This does not me that I never went out to play.  I spent an equal amount of time tearing up the neighborhood during elementary and middle school.  Never have I considered video games real, nor have I committed more than 60% of my waking free time to playing games.  Video games were far more tempting and entertaining than the homework I had to do and the chores that had to be done, but I still got them done.

Until the eighth grade I was a straight ‘A’ student the majority of the time with only the occasional ‘B’.  But video games never interfered with my school work, or my drive.  In fact it is because of video games that I started programming with I was eight.  It is because of video games that I strove to improve my creative drive, my creative abilities and increased my technical knowledge.  For many “geeks” this is the case.

The point is, video games are not a cause or even a contributor to the problem, “addiction” to video games is a symptom of the problem.  Every generation has had the “devil” product that is eating the minds of our children.  It was reading fantasy and fiction books in the 1800s, then it was radio, then it was alcohol again, then it was jazz music, then it was the motion picture, then it was the TV and rock n’ roll, then it was the freedom movement, and now it’s video games, and most recently the internet.  Yes, without discipline these things do become problems, but they are not the cause of the problem.  Every new thing has its positives and negatives.  Everything.  Even reading.  Dr. Sax is blind to the fact that there has always been a scapegoat, and every single on of them has had research to prove how horribly destructive it is.  Well, there have been scientific studies that also support that capitalism, democracy and faith are destructive and counter-productive for society, but those studies are wrong too.

Yes, I agree that there is an increasing problem with the male gender in the United States, and I do agree that action needs to be taken, but this isn’t a new problem.  This has been a growing problem since the 40s, it’s a slow deterioration of moral and family foundation of this country.  The side part is, is that it is so infected with rot that is impacts immigrating families within a generation of coming to the states.  the family unit is no longer the foundation and priority of the American.  Everyone has become too selfish and too busy to actually raise their family.  Especially the upper end middle class American.  Both parents are working, the children are over schooled, over worked, under played and under loved.  I’m surprised the dogs don’t have more psychological issues now also.

Dr. Sax’s book is definitely worth a read, and it is very interesting, but I find it more difficult to acknowledge the validity of his other arguments after dumping so much of the problem on video games.  Doctors did the same thing with comic books in the 50s and 60s.  Even more doctors will begin to pick up on the Internet and social networking in the next 10 years.  The time consumers and mind numbing activities are not the causes, but the symptoms of much deeper and scary issues within the family units, society, our school systems, and how vastly explosive technology has dug into our lives.

So many of the things that Dr. Sax discusses as contributors to the dilemma have their roots in our societies instant satisfaction and constant running mentality.  Environmental pollution, too many plastic bottles, too much stress, too much to do, too little time and too little love.  It is all the result of our inability to discipline ourselves and our children, and our inability to say no.  Maybe the financial “crisis” will cause people to care for themselves and each other, spend some time with each other, and live with one another instead of work nonstop to pay for things we’ve already bought so that we can supply our children with things instead of love.

This title can be a good financial “crisis” escape, since it’s only $10.85 on Amazon, so go pick it up.

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Comments (1) -

4/28/2009 5:06:50 PM #

Ben, I applaud your recommendation of the book.  I just read it, and I'm buying copies for some friends.  I'm a 41 year old male, and I enjoy video games, too.  However, I have to disagree with your argument that this is an age old problem and that video games are equivalent to comics, fiction and jazz.  First, the statistics that Dr. Sax cites are telling that this problem is new and developing.  40 years ago, 58% of college kids were boys, 20 years ago 50% were boys, and today 42% are boys, and girls are graduating at a higher rate than boys.  40 years ago, 80% of the honors students were boys, and today it's the reverse: 80% of honors students are women.  Finally 50 years ago, 5% of men age 30 -54 were unemployed and NOT looking for work, and today 20% are in that category.  Those are dramatic shifts - it wasn't always like this, and jazz didn't create the same issues in the early 20th century.  Second, video games are qualitatively different from comics, books and jazz.  PET scans can measure the difference in the level of stimulation to the nucleus accumbens.  And, as a fellow player, you know how incredibly sophisticated they have become.  You can talk in real time to friends, feel the vibration if battle, and see incredibly realistic visual stimuli.  I admit that the day after Halo II came out, I looked at the clock at 3:30 am on a work night and realized that I had to get up in two hours to go to work.  Seven hours flew by and I barely took a drink or even blinked.  Come on - video games are a lot more addictive than comics, jazz or fiction.  

Jim United States

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About the author

Benjamin is a software developer in the DFW area.  He spends his free time playing video games, programming, doing graphics design and photography, and reading.

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