In thirty years of working with children, I have never been more worried than I am right now for our sons. As a father of daughters, I feel very grateful for the thousands of programs nationwide that focus on girls’ development, including our own Gurian Institute offerings. My two daughters, now adults, have access to multiple options for women, and multiple programs for women’s health. This a wonderful thing and we must keep working to give families and communities successful access to these programs and services.
If you have sons, however, you may be quite worried. Boys are behind girls in nearly every mental, educational, and social health category yet we have almost no federal, state, or local funding for organizations that focus on boys’ issues. A set of recent studies determined that the main or only way our struggling males get help in America is through the criminal justice system–by then, it is often too late to save these boys. Unfortunately, we live in an America that has ideologically and systematically neglected boys’ development as if that neglect was needed in order to help girls. When we do focus on males, we tend to insist we only need to focus on a particular sub-group of males because most males have privilege and are doing fine; or, we publicly persist in accusing males of inherent defectiveness, from deadbeat to rapist to school failure to bad husband to unnecessary parent.
Meanwhile, males kill our neighbors, our friends, our police, our leaders, our parents, and our children. This trend will keep growing unless we decide together that wherever we stand in the ideologically polarized zeitgeist of our time, we must face a hidden fact about which we seem to be in national denial–that we don’t just have a “boys of color” problem, we have a boy problem. We don’t just have “girls issues,” we have boys issues. We as a civilization are reaping terrible danger for families and neighbors because we have neglected not just some boys but created a culture of systematic neglect of males.
That neglect is our most pressing social problem, barely seen. Yet if we look closely at our country we’ll see that nearly every other social issue we face intersects with the state of American boyhood: violence on streets, in workplaces, and in schools; domestic violence and abuse in homes; sexual and physical abuse; addiction, ADD/ADHD, autism, covert depression, and other male-specific brain and psychological disorders; unemployment, underemployment, economic failure, and income inequality; religious and social/ideological radicalization that leads to hyper-aggression or social withdrawal; the loss of males to electronics, a lack of purpose, and a lack of service or mission. Wherever we turn we can see social issues that intersect with how we raise our sons.
From the issues of children grow the issues of a civilization. Yes, now and always, some males will do very well, but what about the other millions of males–what will we do to bring our national focus on them? Unless we answer this question, we will have annually increasingly elevated rates of male mental illness, violent depression, social-phobias-turned-violent, and tragic outcomes like those we’ve seen in Orlando, San Bernadino, Dallas, Minnesota, Louisiana, and nearly everywhere else. Among our answers to the question will be to support both our African American families and our police. Black lives matter and police lives matter.
We are not enemies of one another. In fact, just the opposite: our solutions now require deeper social change than attention on a single group can provide. We must research, fund, train and consult nationwide on boys’ and men’s issues as vigorously as girls and women’s issues (not more but not less, either).
We must realize it is not enough anymore to justify our neglect of males by saying, “Males make more money and lead lots of high office.” That argument fits a few powerful and wealthy males–it does not fit the tens of millions of males who are not doing well at all.
In your homes, schools, and organizations, as you process and integrate all of the violence you are seeing around you, I hope you will include the idea that the issues our boys are experiencing today comprise a vast flood in the face of which our culture is building only tiny skiffs. We must do more to help our sons–this means doing more to help all males. Like female development, the general state of boyhood in a culture is a hallmark of either that culture’s progress or its violent decline.
May our neighbors who have died in Minnesota, Dallas, Missouri, Louisiana, California, and everywhere else not have died in vain.
Let their sacrifice point us to the flood, and may we focus on the source and the reason before it is too late.
-Dr. Michael Gurian,Founder, the Gurian Institute