May 2, 2020

Have We Created a ‘Boy Crisis’?

Every now and again, secular science has a habit of throwing up findings that confirm what we as Bible-believing Christians always take for granted. Such an example is found in a book called The Boy Crisis by Warren Farrell and John Gray. Its subtitle reads, Why Our Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. I was given this book by a brother working in an inner-city hood of New York. He insisted I take two copies, one for me and one for my youth leader.

I’ve since read the book twice. Of course, as with any secular work, there are obvious disagreements. The authors are not card-carrying believers in Christianity. Far from it. There’s more than a little evolutionary psychology at work in their writing. And naturally, there’s a politically correct, some would say overtly ‘woke’ slant in some chapters. But overall, this is an important book for pastors, church planters, youth workers, and parents. In fact, anyone working with men and young lads in working-class areas could do with reading this book.

They’ll Find Someone to Follow

What’s the thesis? Well, Farrell did a PhD on the message of the women’s movement in the 1970s. He rejoiced in the ‘success of mainstream feminism’. In the late 70s, he started to notice higher divorce rates. Children were staying at home with their mums. Dads were labelled ‘downbeat’. Farrell took an interest in them. They were depressed, broke, and not involved in the lives of their kids. His sister was a teacher in New Jersey at the time, and she noticed a severe academic decline in kids from broken homes. Farrell noticed how this was impacting dads around the world. Dad deprivation was real.

Farrell meets John Gray—author of Men Are From Mars and researcher into ADHD (amongst other problems facing young boys). To cut a lot of research short—nine years’ worth, supported by the Obama White House—he comes to this conclusion: “I have found that the single most important tool you can give your son is a once or twice weekly family dinner night.” (7)

Did you have to read that sentence twice? Just stop for a moment and think about how simple that is. And then ask yourself, as Christians, Shouldn’t we be doing that anyway?

The authors continue: “If you have daughters or sisters, they will have to work with boys. If you have no children you will pay through taxes for health care or prison, involving huge numbers of young men. Boys tend to become the kind of men they hang around with.” (9) Just like the phrase indicates, a ‘chip off the old block’. That’s what happens to our boys. If there are no positive male role models to hang around with, a young man will take his lead from either a poor role model or develop withdrawal and spiral—aided all the more by the internet in our day.

In many working-class communities, any sense of purpose has gone. Industry and jobs have largely disappeared. A new sense of purpose has to be discovered. “Loving your wife and kids sacrificially” is one of the things the authors point out (10). For Christians, we know passages like Ephesians 5:25–6:4 make exactly the same point.

A Crisis?

In Chapter one, the authors ask: “Is there really a boy crisis?”

“When mental health declines in a boy, and he drives down the serpentine road, feeling depressed and isolated because nobody loves him, no one needs him and there’s no hope of changing, he drives off the cliff. School shootings are suicides as well as homicides” (15).

They’re obviously talking about extreme situations here, but the point stands. Look at the tragic spate of school shootings in places like the U.S. Daughters aren’t doing the killing. Sons are. Daughters live under the same roof at home, with guns and video games, raised with the same values. But the boys kill. It’s a strong claim the authors are making, to be sure. But it ought to be considered carefully.

Consider some of these sobering facts. More young white boys have been lost to suicide than aids (more than two-thirds compared to all ethnic minorities). Murder is more common amongst African-American young men. Boys aged 15–19 are twice as likely to commit suicide as girls of the same age. Between 20–24, that number becomes five-to-six times greater. There is no economic pattern. In the Great Depression, suicide amongst men was not as bad as 2015—a boom year. It’s probably the case that the rate is worse. Suicides are covered up as ‘accidents’.

The U.S. jail population increased by 700% between 1973–2013. 93% are male, mostly young. That comes at a huge cost to the state. The authors then talk about what they describe as: ‘The Drop Out, Left Out’ cycle. For young men around the world, this means:

  1. Marriage is scarce, as are fathers, and school drop-out rates are high.
  2. Less education = less work.
  3. They are left out of marriage and fatherhood by women.
  4. Some women will have sex with young men, get pregnant, and raise children without a father again.

It’s a bleak cycle. What’s the solution? One idea is to encourage schools to integrate teaching on family values linked with business goals. Balanced stability at home will lead to an educated and stable workforce, so the thinking goes. The authors argue that boys need to be taught to have concrete goals in life. They need to understand how things work, and then be encouraged to work towards some particular end.

Boys also need to be taught emotional intelligence as well as heroic intelligence. Why? “The more sophisticated artificial intelligence becomes, the more we will need emotional intelligence. Caring professions will thrive as traditional male careers shrink.” (31). In other words, as the job market shifts, we need to raise up men who can work in professions that historically haven’t been in existence.

The authors also argue that if young men are capable of hate, they are capable of empathy. (32) One place this is particularly crucial is schools. Bullies commonly have at least one of the following: negative family background, low self-esteem, and/or poor social skills. Empathy therefore must be taught.

When we pursue what we believe, it gives life meaning. The Japanese call it ‘ikigai’. Because women now share more of a breadwinning role, there is less sense of meaning for men. We have to help our sons find a purpose bigger than themselves (47). The alternative is ‘purpose void’—and the spiral of self-disgust and depression is what often follows. Young men need to learn to ‘find’ rather than be simply be told. This can give them the ‘glint in the eye’, which can come from things like scoring a goal, camping, swimming, training, watching his team win, or making people laugh.

I could go on. There are multiple sections like this in the book. I have dedicated huge chunks of my ministry time to trying to mentor new converts and future leaders in my church. I found myself nodding in agreement time and again with the ideas outlined in The Boy Crisis. The chapters on ADHD and suicide were particularly interesting. For suicide prevention, in brief, the authors endorse the ‘Men’s Shed Movement’ as a key mental health boost. In the church, we would call that a ‘Men’s Fellowship’. The ideas aren’t necessarily revolutionary, but they are vital nonetheless.

Of course, there are tons of Christian books out there that address ministry to men. These will likely be far more spiritually satisfying to read. But The Boy Crisis opens up truths from a different angle and, read with aforementioned caution, will prove a stimulating help to those ministering in working-class areas especially.

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