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One Antidote to Male Disillusionment

Yesterday, I blogged about LeBron James, who, at 30 years old, provides a vivid case study of a male moving through four stages of manhood in a healthy way. Today, I feel the need to furnish a challenge to those of you who work with young males, whether it’s on a school campus, on a team, or as an employer or youth worker. Too few young men progress through the stages Lebron models for us.

By almost every benchmark, boys across our nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. “In elementary school, boys are two times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and twice as likely to be placed in special education classes. High school boys are losing ground to girls on standardized writing tests. The number of boys who said they didn’t like school rose 71% between 1980 and 2001, according to a University of Michigan study.”

photo credit: Âtin via photopin cc

photo credit: Âtin via photopin cc

And nowhere is the shift more evident than on college campuses. Forty years ago, men represented 59% of the undergraduate student body. Now, they are a minority at 41%. And the percentage is dropping. Today, roughly six of ten university students are female. “This widening gap,” says Margaret Spellings, U.S. Secretary of Education, “has profound implications for the economy, society, families and democracy.”

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that one third of young men aged twenty-two through thirty-four still live at home with their parents—a number that has doubled over the last twenty years. As physician and psychologist Dr. Leonard Sax points out, ”This phenomenon cuts across all demographics. You’ll find it in families both rich and poor; black, white, Asian, and Hispanic; urban, suburban, and rural… No such change has occurred among women.”

What can we conclude from these statistics? Quite a few factors may be involved. But these numbers give a strong indication that a growing population of American males are neither educated nor motivated. As I meet with men of all ages, I find that too many of them walk through a series of life stations in their masculine journey:

Phases Too Many Males Experience

In our 20s, males often experience either DRIVE or DISTRACTION.
By this I mean, guys either become driven by a goal in their career, or they become distracted by the malaise of options in this life-stage, such as playing video games, going clubbing, exchanging partners, etc. They’re entertained by their pursuit of a goal or by all the amusements that adult life affords them. Both preoccupy them.

In our 30s, males often experience DISSAPPOINTMENT.
In this life station, guys frequently feel at least slight disappointment that the life they had envisioned isn’t quite turning out as they predicted. Neither the drive nor the distractions have satisfied them. They begin to try harder or make shifts in an attempt to become the man they assumed they were.

In our 40s, males often experience DISSATISFACTION.
In midlife, guys begin to make moves in an attempt to fill what’s still empty in their lives. In the 1980s, we began to call this “mid-life crisis.” The problem’s become an identity problem. Dissatisfied with their identity or their accomplishments, guys often seek answers in a new spouse, a new car, a new job or some new identity.

In our 50s, males often experience DISILLUSIONMENT.
In post-midlife, men have either become fulfilled with the moves they made in their 40s or they become disillusioned. In reply, they either cover up their sadness or they become bitter, eventually evolving into the grumpy old men we all want to avoid when we meet them.

What’s the solution?

We need to offer DIRECTION.
I know it sounds too simple. Surely a complex psychological issue like this demands something more complex. Perhaps. But I think that the root of the problem is that males need direction—and the earlier the better. Unfortunately, culture has not offered it. Healthy, male role models are few. We tell them but fail to show them, and as a result, critical thinking skills are not passed along. We may tell them what to do, but not how to think. They got schools but not skills from us. They got explanations but not experiences from us. They got managers but too few mentors. We talk to them in groups, but not enough one on one, where they can exchange life with us.

So, how do we offer direction to males? More on this tomorrow.


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9 Comments

  1. Guest on July 16, 2014 at 9:14 am

    “These numbers give a strong indication that a growing population of American males are neither educated nor motivated.” I would be curious to know how the results would shift if the data included males enrolled in career and technical education. Just because someone chooses to be a welder (or auto/aircraft mechanic, carpenter, mason, etc.) versus an investment banker, doesn’t mean they aren’t “educated” or motivated. Maybe the enrollment decline in higher education among males has been affected by the increasing number of (affordable) alternatives to the traditional four-year universities?

    • Glong on July 17, 2014 at 8:02 am

      I agree, CJ, but I think there’s a perceived (and partially true?) idea that it’s much harder to support a family on jobs a technical-school education provides.

      • Cj Wetzler on July 17, 2014 at 8:47 am

        Perceived, yes, but that’s the issue: perception. An substantial amount of high paying jobs are going unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants. And while that statement may appear to affirm the idea that males aren’t even attending career and technical education… allow me to expand. The perception is that there is one path toward success: college, and with college comes more money. Period. (I can tell you my CTE profession paid two times higher than my current academic profession.) With this perception, for example, you have males who would rock the mechanical world, yet not aware of the opportunity to become an auto mechanic (and are told they’re “not college material”), settle for living at home and playing video games. Why? because they at least get to be somebody in faux reality. I’m with Mike Rowe; it’s time we redefine what is a “good job.”

        • Glong on July 17, 2014 at 8:55 am

          Agreed… and what is a “purposeful” job, too. Any profession can be one where your values & beliefs can impact others positively.

  2. Guest on July 17, 2014 at 8:48 am

    (Original Post) “These numbers give a strong indication that a growing population of American males are neither educated nor motivated.” I would be curious to know how the results would shift if the data included males enrolled in career and technical education. Just because someone chooses to be a welder (or auto/aircraft mechanic, carpenter, mason, etc.) versus an investment banker, doesn’t mean they aren’t “educated” or motivated. Maybe the enrollment decline in higher education among males has been affected by the increasing number of (affordable) alternatives to the traditional four-year universities?

    • Tim Elmore on July 18, 2014 at 8:40 am

      Great point, CJ. I totally agree “education” is not limited to four-year liberal arts colleges. I believe the numbers I reviewed included this. More and more males are enrolling in technical education, but the numbers that show an overwhelming amount of young men living at home still shows a red flag we must address. Thanks for the comment.

      • Cj Wetzler on July 18, 2014 at 9:22 am

        You’re welcome. Thanks for researching and producing high quality resources for people like me to help spread your message. During parent-teacher conferences, I often recommend iY Generation to the parents. I have your new book, and I look forward to growing my teaching and mentorship capacity (and one day, applying the wisdom toward being a influential father).

        • Tim Elmore on July 21, 2014 at 2:33 pm

          Thank you, CJ, for leading the next generation and helping other adults lead well. Teachers like you are my heroes.

  3. Cj Wetzler on July 17, 2014 at 8:49 am

    “These numbers give a strong indication that a growing population of American males are neither educated nor motivated.” I would be curious to know how the results would shift if the data included males enrolled in career and technical education. Just because someone chooses to be a welder (or auto/aircraft mechanic, carpenter, mason, etc.) versus an investment banker, doesn’t mean they aren’t “educated” or motivated. Maybe the enrollment decline in higher education among males has been affected by the increasing number of (affordable) alternatives to the traditional four-year universities?

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One Antidote to Male Disillusionment