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Struggling School-Age Boys

September 12, 2008

Struggling School-Age Boys


A new study says parents are right to worry about their sons.

Why Are School-Age Boys Struggling? | Newsweek Education |

I read this article on my Blackberry this morning and it struck a chord.  This is why I write this blog – to address issues like this.  Not that I have it all figured out, but I definitely have some observations.  Anecdotal observations, but I do think I bring something to the conversation.

As a child, as a son, and as a dad to a son, I have some stake in this discussion.  Not only for the sake of my son, but for my daughter.  And deeper, for the sake of society in general.  The health of our culture can be determined through the symptoms.  We ignore these issues at our own peril – much as if we ignored crushing, substernal chest pain. 

For all the benefits of our society and culture, there are certainly drawbacks.  Depression and obesity are rampant.  Addiction and abuse are lurking all to near the surface.  Broken homes, broken people, and broken dreams are all too identifiable to most of us.

I was a troubled school-age boy.  I was bullied, picked on, ostracized, and invisible.  It’s OK, I’m stronger now.  But, because of that awful experience that some like to call elementary school, junior high, and high school, I think I have some insights into troubled kids.  It’s great that I didn’t kill myself (or others) – but the thoughts crossed my mind.  I think it’s awesome that I didn’t act out on my fantasy to become a homeless youth (though in my mind it was a much more romantic pirate adventure).

I’ve worked through the stuff and I’ve cast off the victim’s garb, however, from the lessons learned, I hope to avoid some of the mistakes I experienced as a kid.  But, more likely than not, I’ll make fresh mistakes.

My parents told me that they were less strict because they were trying to avoid the strictness of their parents.  They went on to explain that I’ll probably be more strict with my kids.  In a word, they were explaining one of my favorite quotes:

I know there’s a balance, ‘cuz I see it when I swing past!”  

John Mellencamp, Scarecrow, 1984

In a nutshell, because I don’t feel like staying up much later tonight, here are some reasons I think boys are struggling:

  • Most men today don’t have a close male confidant, or best-friend.  This viscious circle robs men of intimacy and affirmation, which causes neediness, loneliness, and further drives men into situations that prevent true intimacy.  Men with intimacy issues can’t teach their sons how to have effective relationships.
  • The sexualization of our society leads boys to think that they will be happy if they have sex.  However, this isn’t easy to come by except through porn and other stimulants.  This further challenges the boy’s ability to find serenity and emotional health.
  • Video Games.  I know, it’s been researched and written about over and over again.  But there is no clear evidence that gaming is good for kids.  Like TV, gaming further causes isolation and builds walls to childhood recreation and play.
  • Working parents and the latch-key syndrome.  My one salvation in my day as a kid was the presence of my Mom waiting for us at home when we got out of school.  This is the one constant that I could count on.  There are too many kids today who don’t have this and it is emotionally damaging.  Not to mention the miriad of vices that are open to kids left home alone.  
  • Lack of play, lack of work, lack of focus.  Take your pick.  When I was a kid my parents told me I had to get a summer job.  So, for the first few years leading into my pre-teen years, I picked strawberries.  I hated it and I wasn’t very good at it, but it was good for me.  It kept me out of trouble and taught me a lot of good character lessons.  Today, it is illegal for kids to pick berries.  
  • Broken homes.  If you’ve been through a divorce as a kid, you know what I’m talking about. 
  • Absent fathers.  It isn’t just that dads are emotionally distant, but too often they are physically absent.  Sure, a dad can be present, but zoned out on the TV – but at least he’s there.  A dad who is a workaholic, travels a lot, or has left the home for greener pastures is taking a narrow view of what it means to be a dad.
This list could go on and on.  And given the fact that I’m not too humble and quite outspoken with my opinions, I’ve probably offended some, wounded others, and left some wondering where my documentation is.  Let me just say right now, I’m sorry.  but now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
What do you think are some of the contributing factors to troubled boys?
  1. September 12, 2008 10:16 am

    You hit this on the mark!

    I suggest reading a book called “No More Christian Nice Guy” by Paul Coughlin.

    He addresses the issues that you put here and how alot of “chuch teaching” has made some men passive and very self indulgent.

    Paul really gets what you are talking about, and gives a new way to read the stories of Jesus, how he really was a good man and not a wimpy shepard.

    Just go to for more info and a way to order the book.
    I found it very helpful and has helped me to be a stronger more well rounded man.


  2. September 12, 2008 5:17 pm

    Hey Gary, I think you’ve listed some of the same trends I’ve discovered raising a son to now sophomore in college. It really is both girls and boys, although boys seem to demonstrate an outward response while girls seem to internalize, but maybe it comes out in different ways and that’s why only 10% of girls are seeking attention.

    It all boils down to parenting, single or couple (and, yes, couple of preferable because it is tough for a single parent to get the time to do it alone). If the parent takes the time, most of the other problems become smaller. Not in every case, but in many cases. The more withdrawn the parent, the “crazier” the parent, the more controlling the parent, the more likely the son reacts.

    Like you quoted, it’s the balance, and you may not know until you swing past it.


  3. September 16, 2008 11:55 am

    Thanks for your thoughts. I am personally very concerned about the rising generations of men. I agree that our sensual culture really is setting out young men up for failure.


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