I first heard Dr. Sax speak to the West Windsor-Plainsboro community in November of 2010. He spoke again to a large WW-P audience this past week. Though social media is developing faster than the speed of light, Dr. Sax is literally up to speed with what parents and families should be aware of and doing to survive and thrive in a very challenging world.
This is a review done for Book Notes in 2010 that provides some background on the man and his mission.
The next blog will review his current book titled The Collapse of Parenting: How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them LIke Grown-Ups. The Three Things You Must Do to Help Your Child or Teen Become a Fulfilled Adult. (Basic Books, 2015)
From Book Notes, November 10, 2010:
Dr. Sax Calls it as He Sees It
What is the matter with kids today?!
Though this age-old lament has been muttered since time began, the current crop of kids does seem really out of touch with anything that is normal, even by teen standards. Our girls are on a relentless chase for more – more friends, more attention, more success. But our boys? More video games, perhaps. Where girls are like rockets, boys “fail to launch.”
Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. has become an expert on what he sees as gender quandaries. Fortunately for caring adults, he offers sound analysis on what has gone wrong and what we can do about it.
The double doctor Sax graduated Phi Beta Kappa from MIT and then earned a Ph.D. in psychology and a M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. It was the 1970s and he was indoctrinated with the politically correct lessons of the day on gender neutrality — that the only differences in boys and girls are culturally instilled. An exception to this canon was research he read by Dr. John Corso at Penn State University, who documented the differences in hearing between boys and girls in the 1950s and 1960s. He found that boys do not hear a range of sound as acutely as girls do.
After university, Dr. Sax moved to Montgomery County in Maryland where he and his wife set up a family practice, with their home not 300 yards away. For almost 20 years, he saw thousands of patients. Increasingly, he saw boys who were referred, mostly by teacher recommendations, for evaluation of ADD and ADHD.
Usually, he did not find any evidence of attention deficit disorder. But recalling Dr. Corso’s research on hearing limits, he advised that the boys weren’t so much tuning out, but rather just not hearing the female teachers’ voices. His advice that they sit in the front of the room rather than prescribing medications did not endear him to those seeking a “medical option.”
Intrigued with what he was seeing in his own practice, Dr. Sax began researching gender behaviors. “As a Ph.D. in psychology,” he writes, “I had the background to do quantitative and systematic research.” Further confirmation came from the workshops he did for parents as they shared their concerns about their sons not being “engaged.” His first book “Why Gender Matters” (Doubleday, 2005) examined “What it means to be a man? A woman?” He notes, “Our kids want to know and we don’t tell them.”
But, he adds, “the marketplace sure does, filling the vacuum, providing caricatures of feminine and masculine” that he maintains “drives girls to anxiety and depression, and boys to escape in the virtual world of video games or the Internet.”
As he honed his studies of boys, concurrently publishing scholarly pieces for professional journals and articles for popular magazines, Dr. Sax ultimately published his book “Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys” (Basic Books, 2007; updated in 2009).
He writes, “Boys’ ‘failure to launch’ is why men in their 20s and 30s are happily living in their parents’ basement.” His study of “lazy boys” extended to Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, England, Scotland, Germany and Spain as he sought answers to why boys disdain school and then, disdain entering into a productive life.
Described as a “controversial psychologist,” Dr. Sax in “Boys Adrift” identifies and discusses the impact of education (the “feminization” of schools), medication (rampant Ritalin), nutrition (junk food, additives), and recreation (screen time). What bothers him the most, echoed by parents, teachers and counselors, is that boys “don’t have a passion for anything,” except, perhaps, video games.
College populations are now 58% female to 42% male in the U.S. with similar numbers in Canada and Australia. And of that number, fewer than 40% of men who start college finish.
He writes, “In my practice with more than 7,000 patients, I’ve seen hundreds of families where girls are the smart, driven ones, while their brothers are laid-back and unmotivated. The opposite pattern is rare.”
But in this phenomenon of lazy boys and hard working girls, “girls are not the winners.” Dr. Sax’s most recent book takes an equally intense look at the issues plaguing young women; “Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls” (Basic Books, 2010).
One factor is the “hyper-socialization” of girls, where in reaching out to others through the ubiquitous social networking tools the “less they connect with themselves.” Dr. Sax writes that their “self-realization is stunted” and through “over-sharing” girls have become experts in “creating masks.”
Another great concern is the sexualization of girls — even very young girls. He says, “Just look at the clothes in the little girls’ department. The styles are the same as those marketed to teens and young women.”
Here’s the good news. Dr. Sax is one down-to-earth dad, and his books reflect his practical nature. Not only are they quick reads, but each book refuses to be a litany of woes, but rather a tightly focused compendium of good advice.
For example, “The cell phone charger should stay in mom and dad’s room.” And “No cell phones at the table — including Mom’s and Dad’s Blackberries.”
One might think that Leonard Sax, with his traditionally laced opinions, was raised in a conventional 1950s family. But his mom was a pediatrician and he grew up with dinner conversations about differences she observed in boys and girls behaviors in her practice.
Now, years later, he has turned to a new career as an author and speaker dedicated to spreading his ideas on how we can help boys and girls grow into healthy, fully realized men and women.
Leonard Sax’s ideas may provoke debate, but he has attracted a wide range of favorable endorsements from the likes of Pop Doc Dr. Oz and the venerable American Medical Association, as well as educators from around the world. He has appeared on all the top news and talk shows -- look for him on YouTube.
Whatever the age of your child or teen, Dr. Sax offers effective strategies to deal with the unique problems of this 21st century to help our kids overcome the challenges and stresses they confront daily.
I wrote a column, Book Notes, for many years for local central NJ weeklies. Newspapers are a dying breed, but the desire to share thoughts on books lives on.