published Sunday, August 21st, 2011

First Things First: Are boys' brains being rewired?

By Julie Baumgardner

At a recent Technology, Entertainment and Design conference, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, psychology professor at Stanford University, talked about the demise of guys, stating that boys are flaming out academically and wiping out socially with girls and sexually with women.

Kay Hymowitz, Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and author of "Manning Up: How the Rise of Women has Turned Men into Boys" makes similar statements about boys saying, "Pre-adult men often seem like children, filling their leisure time with video games, Adam Sandler movies, indie bands, beer pong and the company of inebriated women."

These are only two of many voices questioning what is happening to boys.

Consider these facts:

  • Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out or flunk out of school than girls.

  • Girls now outperform guys at every level from elementary to graduate school.

  • Two-thirds of all special education students are boys.

  • Boys are five times more likely to be labeled ADHD.

  • By the time boys are 21 they have played more than 10,000 video games mostly in isolation.

  • The average boy watches 50 porn clips a week.

Is any of this concerning? Both Zimbardo and Hymowitz are sounding an alarm that something is not right.

In his talk, Zimbardo cites research conducted annually with college students on shyness. There has been a steady increase of shyness among males. One significant finding is that the shyness used to be related to a fear of rejection, now it is more about a social awkwardness. They don't know how to act or what to say around someone of the opposite sex. They don't know the language of face contact, the verbal or nonverbal rules that enable a person to talk and listen comfortably.

Zimbardo even talks about a new syndrome he is researching called social intensity syndrome that tries to account for why guys prefer male bonding, in clubs, teams, gangs and the military over female mating. One of the interesting things he is seeing is that guys now prefer the a-synchronistic Internet world over the spontaneous interaction in social relationships.

What are the causes of this? Zimbardo believes it is excessive Internet use, excessive gaming and excessive access to porn.

These are arousal addictions, he explains. With drugs you want more, with porn you want different. They need novelty to sustain arousal, and the industry is supplying it. The porn industry is the fastest-growing industry in America, $15 billion annually. For every 400 movies made in Hollywood, there are 11,000 porn movies made.

Why should we care?

Newsflash: Boys' brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way for change, constant arousal, novelty and excitement. Zimbardo explains that this is totally out of sync with traditional classrooms that are static, analogue and interactively passive. It also creates real issues when it comes to romantic relationships that grow gradually and subtly.

If you are a parent, educator, employer, potential mate or concerned community citizen who cares about the well-being of children, hopefully there is an alarm going off in your head, and you are thinking about your role in addressing this issue.

Email Julie Baumgardner, executive director of First Things First, at julieb@firstthings.org.

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