Culture TED Books

New TED ebook warns of the demise of guys

Posted by:

Have boys bottomed out? A new TED Book says yes. The culprit: the rampant overuse of video games and online porn.

In their provocative ebook The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, celebrated psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say that an addiction to video games and online porn have created a generation of shy, socially awkward, emotionally removed, and risk-adverse young men who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school, and employment. Taking a critical look at a problem which is tearing at families and societies everywhere, The Demise of Guys suggests that our young men are suffering from a new form of “arousal addiction,” and introduce a bold new plan for getting them back on track. The book is based on a popular TED Talk which Zimbardo did in 2011, and includes extensive research as well as a TED-exclusive survey that drew responses from more than 20,000 men. We recently spoke with Zimbardo and Duncan about their ideas.

Why are guys failing?
Duncan: There are many factors that play into a general loss of motivation in guys. If you go beyond the symptoms — performing poorly in school, failing to transition into adulthood, flaming out socially and sexually with women — and into the causes, guys are living in an environment that’s hostile towards men. We make men feel expendable, unneeded, and like they can’t be themselves. When you think about the fact that 85% of all stimulant medications are prescribed to American boys, for example, you can’t help but wonder about why there is such a disproportion. No doubt there’s some legitimate cases of ADHD, but we’re basically telling high-energy males that it’s not okay to be that way and there’s something wrong with them. We’ve also canceled most gym and recreation time in schools — an important way guys used to be able to release some of that energy. The list goes on.

What age group of men are we talking about?
Zimbardo: We focus primarily on guys in their teens and 20s, although guys of all ages are certainly affected.

What’s causing this? Tech? Media?
Duncan: Technology is not the issue. Rather, it’s the misuse of technology. There’s a general overuse of video games and porn — especially in social isolation — which is not balanced out by other activities like exercise, face-to-face socialization with peers, or individual time with any kind of male mentor. The average teenage guy spends 44 hours a week in front of a television or computer screen and half an hour in one-on-one conversation with his father. And that’s the boys who actually have a father around. Fatherlessness is another huge factor; America leads the industrialized world in fatherlessness — 40% of children today are born to unwed mothers, the rate is 50% for women under 30. This in turn affects guys’ school performance. Boys that grow up without fathers around do not do as well in school and are not as well adjusted socially. They’re also far more likely to have attention or mood disorders and more likely to play excessive amounts of video games.

Each generation seems to think that the generation following them is headed for ruin. Couldn’t this just be adult fears based on not understanding the youth?
Zimbardo: There’s no doubt every generation is different from the last. However, this generation is very different from any other before it. Guys’ brains are being forever altered with prescription drugs, illegal drugs that have ever-increasing potency, and overstimulation from enticing images and games. All of this make them less motivated to deal with a quickly evolving reality. Young men are getting left behind socially, sexually, and financially.

Has something changed to worsen the challenges that young men have in creating solid interpersonal relationships?
Zimbardo: The most popular answers from our 20,000-person survey was that widespread hardcore Internet porn is wreaking havoc on relationships. Women said it’s made guys emotionally unavailable, and guys said it made them less interested in pursuing a relationship in the first place. The terrible economy doesn’t help, because of the current financial situation many guys can no longer see a family in their future. Relationships used to be viewed as a precursor to setting up a family together, but today, with fewer reasons to become romantically committed, young men don’t need to look beyond women as sex objects.

Can we slow the demise of guys?
Yes. These trends can be reversed, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and involvement from parents — both mom and dad, educators, video game producers, and guys themselves. We started a forum on our website to get these discussions going.

The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It is part of the TED Books series, which is available for the Kindle and Nook as well as on Apple’s iBookstore.