There is an interesting new book out from TED Books, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It (only $2.99 for the Kindle), by Philip G. Zimbardo & Nikita Duncan. The book is based on Zimbardo's widely popular 2011 TED Talk.
As of 5/29/12, the book has received seven 5-star ratings and seven 1-star ratings at Amazon (out of 15 ratings) - seems people love it or hate it.
About the authors:
Dr. Philip Zimbardo is an icon in the field, being Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Stanford University, a two-time past president of the Western Psychological Association, and the past president of the American Psychological Association. Zimbardo is an internationally recognized scholar, educator, researcher and media personality, winning numerous awards and honors in each of these domains. He has been a Stanford University professor since 1968, having taught previously at Yale, NYU and Columbia. Zimbardo's career is noted for giving psychology away to the public through his popular PBS-TV series, Discovering Psychology, along with many text and trade books, among his 300 publications.
For the last few years Nikita Duncan has been experimenting with various ideas and styles in an attempt to produce visually and psychologically interesting paintings. Most of her work represents the energy, feelings, and non-visual aspects of people and experiences, however she also enjoy capturing landscapes and figures. She believes people connect with others by sharing their lives, stories, and perspectives. Through conversation she has come to realize that there are as many truths as there are people and all of us experience the same things in completely different ways.
Zimbardo and Duncan sat for a brief interview at the TED blog, and they also wrote a column for Huffington Post in support of the book.
Have boys bottomed out? A new TED Book says yes. The culprit: the rampant overuse of video games and online porn.
In their provocative ebook The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, celebrated psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say that an addiction to video games and online porn have created a generation of shy, socially awkward, emotionally removed, and risk-adverse young men who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school, and employment. Taking a critical look at a problem which is tearing at families and societies everywhere, The Demise of Guys suggests that our young men are suffering from a new form of “arousal addiction,” and introduce a bold new plan for getting them back on track. The book is based on a popular TED Talk which Zimbardo did in 2011, and includes extensive research as well as a TED-exclusive survey that drew responses from more than 20,000 men. We recently spoke with Zimbardo and Duncan about their ideas.
Why are guys failing?
Duncan: There are many factors that play into a general loss of motivation in guys. If you go beyond the symptoms — performing poorly in school, failing to transition into adulthood, flaming out socially and sexually with women — and into the causes, guys are living in an environment that’s hostile towards men. We make men feel expendable, unneeded, and like they can’t be themselves. When you think about the fact that 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys, for example, you can’t help but wonder about why there is such a disproportion. No doubt there’s some legitimate cases of ADHD, but we’re basically telling high-energy males that it’s not okay to be that way and there’s something wrong with them. We’ve also canceled most gym and recreation time in schools — an important way guys used to be able to release some of that energy. The list goes on.
What age group of men are we talking about?
Zimbardo: We focus primarily on guys in their teens and 20s, although guys of all ages are certainly affected.
What’s causing this? Tech? Media?
Duncan: Technology is not the issue. Rather, it’s the misuse of technology. There’s a general overuse of video games and porn — especially in social isolation — which is not balanced out by other activities like exercise, face-to-face socialization with peers, or individual time with any kind of male mentor. The average teenage guy spends 44 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen and half an hour in one-on-one conversation with his father. And that’s the boys who actually have a father around. Fatherlessness is another huge factor; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness — 40% of children today are born to unwed mothers, the rate is 50% for women under 30. This in turn affects guys’ school performance. Boys that grow up without fathers around do not do as well in school and are not as well adjusted socially. They’re also far more likely to have attention or mood disorders and more likely to play excessive amounts of video games.
Each generation seems to think that the generation following them is headed for ruin. Couldn’t this just be adult fears based on not understanding the youth?
Zimbardo: There’s no doubt every generation is different from the last. However, this generation is very different from any other before it. Guys’ brains are being forever altered with prescription drugs, illegal drugs that have ever-increasing potency, and overstimulation from enticing images and games. All of this make them less motivated to deal with a quickly evolving reality. Young men are getting left behind socially, sexually, and financially.
Has something changed to worsen the challenges that young men have in creating solid interpersonal relationships?
Zimbardo: The most popular answers from our 20,000-person survey was that widespread hardcore Internet porn is wreaking havoc on relationships. Women said it’s made guys emotionally unavailable, and guys said it made them less interested in pursuing a relationship in the first place. The terrible economy doesn’t help, because of the current financial situation many guys can no longer see a family in their future. Relationships used to be viewed as a precursor to setting up a family together, but today, with fewer reasons to become romantically committed, young men don’t need to look beyond women as sex objects.
Can we slow the demise of guys?
Yes. These trends can be reversed, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and involvement from parents — both mom and dad, educators, video game producers, and guys themselves. We started a forum on our website demiseofguys.com to get these discussions going.
The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It is part of the TED Books series, which is available for the Kindle and Nook as well as on Apple’s iBookstore for $2.99.
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From the Huffington Post:
Have you noticed how guys are being portrayed in movies lately? Unless you've been living under a rock you've seen at least one of these: Knocked Up, Failure to Launch, Hall Pass, Old School, or the Jackass series.
All the leading male characters are presented as expendable losers usually incapable of taking responsibility for themselves, often plotting intricate but seldom realized plans to get laid, and generally running the opposite direction of any kind of commitment. Not only do they avoid the future, sometimes they attempt to re-live past glory in order to avoid living in the present. It seems these guys don't have much value to contribute to society beyond their ability to entertain the other male characters, and of course, the audience.
It might be that the media is just reflecting real-life trends: in record numbers guys are flaming out academically, wiping out with girls socially, and failing sexually with women later on. But what if the reverse is also true?
As entertaining as these movies can be, what are the effects these stereotypes of men have on the young guys growing up watching them? When we conducted a 20,000 person survey for our book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, we wanted to find out the factors contributing to motivational and social problems in today's young men. The most popular response we got across the broad spectrum of answers - nearly two-thirds of participants agreed - it was because of conflicting messages from media, institutions, parents, and peers about what is acceptable and desirable male behavior.
This means guys aren't sure what it means to be a man, that the people that need to be showing them the way aren't available guides, and it's affecting their ability to succeed. Fathers especially have dropped the ball; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness. Forty percent of all children in America are born to single mothers; that rate is 50% for mothers under 30, and 70% for African-Americans. While moms are great at giving unconditional love regardless of their child's performance, dads motivate sons to try harder, not to give up, to work for success. But even for those with dads, the average school-age boy in America spends half an hour a week in one-to-one conversation with his father. Compare that with an average of 44 hours a week spent in front of a television or computer screen.
Without better male role models in real life, guys become confused about what constitutes acceptable male behavior. They don't recognize the images presented in video games, movies, television, and porn as caricatures. Recent research conducted by Maya Götz and Dafna Lemish revealed that boys are more vulnerable than girls to absorbing the messages of media. Girls will usually pick and choose what they like about a certain story and incorporate it into their daydreams, but boys, will imagine themselves in the position of their heroes and want to experience a story similar to the original version.
Boys aren't spending enough time with fathers or mentors who can show them the way they're supposed to behave as healthy men and it's no longer an isolated problem. This is the first time in American history that boys are having less education than their fathers. Many young men see their future as bleak and about 70% of them don't feel they'll be as capable as their peers in other first world countries.
In the 2006 PBS documentary, Raising Cain: Boys in Focus, we learned that shockingly, 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys. This brain-behavior interaction is also impacted by the social variable of fatherhood. A 2010 study of over a million Swedish children ages 6 to 19 found that kids raised by single parents were 54% more likely to be on ADHD medication, and the National Center for Health Statistics reports that a child of unwed or divorced parents who lives only with their mother is 375% more likely to need professional treatment for emotional or behavioral problems.
There is now evidence for reciprocal causality for attention problems and impulsiveness, and video game playing. Researchers at Iowa State University and Singapore examined over 3,000 children and adolescents for a 3-year period and found that even when controlling for gender, age, race, SES, and earlier attention problems, kids who spend more time playing video games have a higher rate of attention problems. They also found that kids who are more impulsive or start out with more attention problems will then spend more time playing video games, thus leading to a higher likelihood of subsequent additional attention problems or impulsivity. Video gaming has also been associated with decreased school performance, desensitization to violence, and can influence how one learns and socializes due to a lack of balance between time spent gaming and engaging in other activities, like socializing with friends and girls.
Schools too, are increasingly becoming a place where men aren't present either as mentors or role models. According to the National Education Association the number of male teachers is approaching a 40-year low. With reading assignments with heroines, like Wuthering Heights, and the removal of recess and hands-on learning, it's becoming difficult for boys to find any subject in school that's interesting to them or that stimulates their imaginations.
Video games have become an enchanting alternative for guys' fantasies. Given the choice between traditional schoolwork and endlessly exciting and varied video games there's little contest. The average teenage guy plays about 13 hours of video games a week. This adds up to 676 hours a year, or the entire month of February. Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., Director of Games Research and Development at Palo Alto's Institute of the Future, estimates that the average young person will be spending 10,000 hours gaming by the age of 21. To put this in context, it takes the average college student half that time - 4,800 hours - to get a bachelor's degree.
Exacerbating the problem for boys and young men is the new availability, 24/7, of freely accessible Internet pornography. Excessive and isolated porn use has become a new form of arousal addiction in which one needs variety to avoid habituation, and the porn industry, like the video game industry, is ready and willing to offer an almost infinite array of variety in their content.
It's time for men to step up and take responsibility for our boys. It's time for moms not to be content that their son is "safe" up his room, doing whatever, but to engage him more fully in conversations, to encourage him to track his activities for a week, to have friends over, and be a more social animal. The current generation of boys and men need more real male role models, courageous, compassionate and heroic ones, and less modeled after the losers in Knocked Up, and with fewer Hall Passes.