Recently, I had the opportunity to attend TED2014 and I was very excited about what psychologist Phillip Zimbardo had to say. He spoke about how men are failing socially, academically and with women. His TED talk struck a nerve with me.
The debate is on about how we as a nation are failing our boys and men, and many fingers, including Zimbardo’s, are pointing to our technology-driven society (namely violent video games and easy access to pornography) and schools that aren’t as “boy friendly.”
I agree: it is time we step up to the plate and support our boys early on, before they become disengaged, failed men.
Our boys are immersed in technology that is altering their brains.
The shift in our culture toward increased technology time – television, video games, the internet, and social media – is not without consequence.
Whenever you watch anything on television, your imagination pulls you into what you’re watching. As a result, you react emotionally as if whatever is happening on television is actually happening to you. Consider that the average American youth spends approximately 50 hours per week in front of some sort of screen or another, whether playing video and computer games or watching television. That’s a LOT of screen time, to say the least.
Consistent exposure to violent video games, television shows, and movies, as well as pornography, can impact the brain and actually alter its architecture.
What does this mean? It means that the more our boys play violent video games or watch violent TV shows, the more emotionally and psychologically incapable they become of interacting and dealing with the real world, as the technology works to remove them further and further from reality.
As a result, boys are shyer and more socially awkward with girls and because by the age of 21, men have played at least 10,000 hours of video games in isolation, they are now out of sync with the language and social rules of face to face contact. Further, availability of online pornography, a 15 billion dollar annual business, is changing and rewiring the way boys relate to girls and women. Watching approximately 15 pornography images a week, boys are becoming more highly aroused and addicted to novelty.
Our boys are losing critical social skills by being tied to technology.
The impersonal culture of the internet stands to block the capability of our nation’s boys from turning into our nation’s leaders. True social interaction, necessary for adult success in work and in life, isn’t being taught to these boys because they are immersed in mostly virtual relationships without consequences. In a way, boys who spend too much time interacting only online and through video games stay immature because they don’t get to experience the real consequences of their feelings, thoughts, and actions; they don’t learn how to deal. They’re not learning the social skills one needs to succeed in the world as a functioning adult.
Our boys are falling behind and dropping out of academics
As boys sink further socially, so too, do they sink academically. A recent Gallup Student Poll suggests that boys have a weaker emotional connection with school as early as fifth grade, and that more than one in four boys are not engaged or actively disengaged in fifth grade.
Some researchers suggest that boys are disengaged and getting lower grades in class because our schools are not “boy-friendly.” In their book, The Rise of Women: The Growing Gender Gap in Education and What It Means for American Schools, Thomas A. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, sociology professors at Columbia and Ohio State, state that “Boys involved in extracurricular cultural activities such as music, art, drama, and foreign languages report higher levels of school engagement and get better grades than other boys. But these activities are often denigrated as un-masculine."
What can we do about it?
• If you are the parent of a young boy in elementary or middle school, limit his screen time. Most doctor recommend no more than one or two hours per day. This includes television, cell phones, video games, and tablets.
• Know what your child is watching. Parents must parent, and that means being aware of what happens in the video games he plays and the shows he watches. It is up to you to ensure the screen time your child is exposed to is appropriate.
• Communicate with your child’s school. It is important for parents and teachers to keep open lines of communication, so that you are made aware of any changes your child exhibits at school, and you can address those changes head on before your child gets lost in the shuffle.
• Support your son’s wishes for school participation without judgment or gender bias. Encourage him to participate in music, arts, and theater programs if he shows an interest.
• Practice the empathic process. Set aside time to chat with your kids in the kitchen after school or each night, and allow them to share anything about their day with you openly, without judgment or your immediate reaction. This helps build trust, so that when any issues do come up, you know that they already have the confidence in you to share openly and honestly.
• Engage your child from a young age in play that does not involve technology. Make library, science museum, and museum of natural history visits an important part of your regular family time. Give your child free play time to help develop his imagination and hone his problem solving skills.
We may not be able to change our education system or the video game industry overnight, but we do have some control as parents to help ensure our own sons do not fall through the cracks.