This is a continuing blog based on Dr. Leonard Sax’s book Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men. Part 1, focusing on accelerated early childhood education, can be found here.

The second factor affecting American boys today is the impact of video games. I was surprised to hear of why they are so popular among young boys. It is not what I thought.

In complete honesty, I didn’t grow up with video games, but rather on the side of an orange grove in south Florida until my late teen years. My brothers and I would set out each day building tree houses, rigging up Big Wheels behind mini-bikes, making mud pies (more like ammo), and throwing late-season oranges with the fierceness of a military operation. We all have scars from injuries and great stories. We steered clear of video games in #1 Son’s life until he was old enough to wheel-and-deal the neighborhood’s semi-annual garage sale to build a sufficient balance at the local Game Stop to purchase his first video game system, eventually, as a high schooler. We chose to have only one TV in our home until we permitted he purchase one to play video games. We were the family that held off long enough getting a computer at all until Baby Girl was required to do a report as a junior in high school about the Vietnam War. According to our go-to research resource, our 1971 World Book Encyclopedia, the Vietnam War was still going on. We acquiesced and bought our first home computer. #1 Son played video games well and often, but he didn’t start as early as kids do today and they were certainly not on every device he held in his hand. Things are different for American boys today, for sure.

Video games feed a kid’s ‘will to power.’ The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche likens it to one’s need to be in charge of their environment. In boys, this ‘will to power’ takes precedence over other drives, worldviews, and other perspectives. (pg 76) Dr. Sax shares that boys who appear unmotivated are indeed motivated by this ‘will to power.’

“Secretly, these boys often believe that they are special, that they are unique, that they have a hidden destiny that will be revealed in time. As a result, they believe that the rules that apply to ordinary people don’t apply to them. Their ‘destiny’ matters more to them than friendship or academic achievement – more than happiness, for that matter. They often do not expect other people, including their parents, to understand them. They may not even want other people to understand them, because they sense that their worldview, with all its megalomania, will appear puerile and egocentric to most adult eyes.” (pg 76) Are you grinning yet? I am!

So, think about it. Take on the world and beat the bad guys or choose math homework? The virtual world is fast-moving, interactive, collaborative, and fun. “And it is heroic…..In the world of the video game, you can be great.” (pg 79) This is where the distinction between Kenntnis (playing football online) and Wissenschaft (playing football on a field) gets blurry for a boy. This is where a boy believes he can drive a real car because he can drive a virtual car.

Boys are then challenged in this ‘destiny-fulfillment’ and ‘healthy competition’ because the screen has replaced engaging in reality, even outdoors. Boys who can climb, jump, win, and drive online have difficulty climbing a tree (upper body strength), jumping (gross motor skills), winning (racing without breathing heavy), showing endurance (riding the bike for long distances), and, well, you get the idea. Where does a young boy learn patience…humility…how to play with a friend…ride a bike…healthy relationships (many boys today prefer to play video games to being with their families or even girls – pg 89)?

High schools are so large now that only the 30+ athletically elite out of a school of 1,000-2,000 will make the team. So let’s be creative on how we, as the local church, can offer reality, competition, and Jesus ‘is a real man’s man.’ Jesus was hardly a weakling. He was a carpenter’s son, a fisherman, handy, yet patient, kind, and spent time with his tribe. Tribe here means a group of people with similar ideas and interests.

Dr. Sax’s suggestions? Nothing teaches a boy patience like going fishing. Want to make a fishing trip even better? Take a boy fishing with an older guy. The best way for kids to know Jesus is to know people who know Jesus. The best way for a boy to know about being a man of faith is to know and spend time with men of faith doing guy stuff with other guys. Not every guy likes sports, but there is healthy competition to see who can catch the first fish, grill the best burger, and drive a bumper car. Sign boys up for contact sports, classes to learn to play an instrument to play in a band (one band, one sound!), and live out the real thing. Video games are just pretend, an imitation. Encourage boys to take cotillion classes so they learn that spending time and sharing real experiences with real girls is way better than spending time with imitation or pretend girls online. That’s all I’m gonna say about that.

My response? I’ve enlisted the help of the Men’s Ministry of my local church to begin offering these outlets for my boys and connecting my dads with Titus 2 men of the church. Let’s break out the power tools, the duct tape, and offer time for creative work with their hands. Will look at planning a local fishing trip, too. “Let’s reconnect the generations.” (pg 255) We’re in the brainstorming phase right now. What else?

“Once you have a boy in your life, things you never dreamed of become normal.” ~ Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys by Stephen James and David Thomas