Will a son in the White House make a difference for America’s men and boys?

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Barron Trump (Credit: PJ Media)

When US President Donald Trump took office on 20 January last, his 11-year-old son Barron Trump became the youngest presidential son to reside in the White House in decades. And then only in part, as his young Barron spends most of his time at the Trump family’s New York residence.

The White House has been home to only presidential daughters since John F. Kennedy Jr., whose father was assassinated just before his third birthday in 1963. In fact, John F. Kennedy Jr. was the first male child to live at the famed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue address since 1901, when Theodore Roosevelt’s two boys, Quentin and Archie, moved in there. It seems that US presidents tend to have only daughters.

John F. Kennedy with John Jr., White House
John F. Kennedy with John Jr., White House, October 1963 (Credit: JFK Library)

Some years previously during the Obama administration, a non-partisan group of men and women came together with the idea of championing a White House Council on Boys and Men. Why not? It only seemed fair. A White House Council on Women and Girls had been established in March 2009 under Executive Order 13506, which in part stated:

“The purpose of this order is to establish a coordinated Federal response to issues that particularly impact the lives of women and girls and to ensure that Federal programs and policies address and take into account the distinctive concerns of women and girls… When our daughters do not have the same educational and career opportunities as our sons, that affects entire communities, our economy, and our future as a Nation.”

Mainstream media fanfare for 2009 White House Council for Women and Girls
Mainstream media fanfare for 2009 White House Council for Women and Girls

Under the leadership of Dr. Warren Farrell, the proposal for a parallel White House Council on Boys and Men attracted support from thirty-four prominent authors, educators, researchers and practitioners. Remarking that “our daughters and sons are in the same boat. If just one sex wins, both sexes lose”, Dr. Farrell envisioned the Council’s three goals as follows:

  • To investigate the status of boys and their journey into manhood
  • To identify both surface and underlying problems confronting boys and men, and
  • To create a blueprint toward solutions.

The Five Components of the Male Crisis

The Council identified five major components of the crisis facing America’s boys and men, and set out potential solutions to each. See the video below featuring Dr. Farrell.

Below is an outline of the five components. You can read an Executive Summary here.

#1. The Education of our Sons

American children are falling behind most other developed nations in educational achievement, and boys are falling well behind girls. Boys are more medicated and less educated. They are considerably behind girls in reading and writing, motivation, grades, and standardised test scores. More boys are dropouts and expelled. In higher education, males have gone from 61% of graduates to a projected 39%.

Boys underperformance in education
Boys underperformance in education (Credit: White Council on Boys and Men)

Boys increasingly face problems in reading and writing, motivation to be in school and motivation to do homework after school. More boys are dropouts, in special education, and expelled, despite being more medicated to mitigate those problems. Perhaps as a result of all of the above, female college students and female college graduates now far outnumber their male counterparts — a trend that shows no sign of levelling off.

The number of boys who said they didn’t like school increased by 71% since 1980, according to a University of Michigan study. Each year, 10% of boys drop out of school compared to 8% of girls.

Male disengagement from education impacts everything from our nation’s daughters to our nation’s debt. For example, when boys are interested in learning, they behave better in classrooms and thus are less likely to interrupt girls’ learning. When young men succeed, they are more attractive to women as husbands and future dads. As such, they give mothers options to raise money, raise children, or some combination.

The number of boys who said they didn’t like school increased by 71% since 1980, according to a University of Michigan study. Each year, 10% of boys drop out of school compared to 8% of girls.

It impacts our national debt because less-successful boys are likely to become less-successful men who are less likely to pay taxes, and to become instead unmarried dads whose children are more likely to be supported by taxes others pay. America will fall behind if we do not help our sons to close their achievement deficit in math, science, and literacy compared with other developed countries.

Among the remedies would be the following: more male teachers; bringing men working in traditionally male occupations into the classroom; boy-friendly testing (interactive, physically active, project-oriented, the incorporation of competitive games…); boy-focused reading programmes; single-sex classrooms; developing evidence-based practices and updating teacher education.
More here >

#2. The Emotional Health of our Sons

Boys’ suicide rate goes from equal to girls to five times girls’ between ages 13 and 20, as boys feel the pressures of the male role. Such statistics can overwhelm our compassion, but violent teenagers were once baby boys, and at that point, were far more capable of accepting guidance and rejecting negative influences. Maximising early prevention programmes can minimise the economic costs of criminal incarceration.

Male loneliness, suicide
Male pressures lead too frequently to distress or suicide (Credit: Pexels Library)

Among the elderly, men over 85 have a suicide rate 1300% higher than their female peers. Other symptoms of male emotional challenges range from ADHD to violence, crime and the 5 D’s: depression, drinking, drugs, disobedience and delinquency. A Council might offer such solutions as parent and professional education, communication and relationship-skill training, and encourage mentoring and two-parent families.

Boys’ suicide rate goes from equal to girls to five times girls’ between ages 13 and 20, as boys feel the pressures of the male role.

While our sons need two parent families and mentors, the messages we send our sons to prepare them for the future need not be the same as the messages of the past. Our daughters have found that more flexible expectations allowed them to experience emotional fulfilment from the permission to discover who they are. Similarly, we have the opportunity to create more flexible expectations for our sons – rather than the pressures of the male role that too frequently lead to emotional distress or suicide.
More here >

#3. Children without Dads; Dads without Children

1 out of every 3 children in America (over 24 million children) lives in a father-absent home. Among African- American children, nearly 2 in 3 (64%) live in father-absent homes. Almost 40% of American children are now born outside marriage — usually meaning little or no father involvement.

Father and son on the beach
Fathers: more than just visitors (Credit: Pexels Library)

The stress on single moms was documented by the largest study ever done comparing single moms with single dads. It found that single moms were more likely to feel overwhelmed and depressed combining working outside the home with child-raising, even though they are more likely to receive financial assistance. This implies that fathers are an underutilised resource for reducing stress on single moms.

We expect fathers — or the government-as-substitute father — to offer financial support, but no government programme is creating incentives for what children without a dad’s involvement need most: a dad’s involvement. In a meta-analysis of 63 studies published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, children’s wellbeing was strongly correlated to how close they were to their non-resident father more than it was to his level of financial support.

The most recent research now makes clear, though, that children benefit most from living with dad a significant portion of the time — not just visiting the dad. A White House Council on Boys and Men can discern what traditional contributions of a mom and dad result in the best outcome for children, and then encourage parenting programs that help single parents learn from the best of the other gender’s contributions. Just as it takes the checks and balances of two parties to govern a nation, it takes the checks and balances of moms and dads to govern a family.

We expect fathers — or the government-as-substitute father — to offer financial support, but no government program is creating incentives for what children without a dad’s involvement need most: a dad’s involvement.

A White House Council on Boys and Men can explore how to best give the resource of dad to children and moms, a sense of purpose to dads, and save the nation trillions of dollars that are the cost of not recruiting fathers to reduce poverty and crime. It can draw up a blueprint to help our sons contribute to their families the way our daughters are contributing to the workplace.
More here >

#4. The Crisis of Boys’ and Men’s Physical Health

According to Randolph Nesse, Professor of Psychology, University of Michigan: “Being male is now the single largest demographic factor for early death. If you could make male mortality rates the same as female rates, you would do more good than curing cancer.”

It is estimated that more than 375,000 American lives would be saved in a single year if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s. American men die earlier of nine of the 10 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.

But men’s earlier death is not inevitable biologically. In 1920, American boys and men lived just one year less than women; today, American boys and men live five fewer years. In just ninety years, the male-female life expectancy gap has grown 400%.

Male health
Men die earlier in 90% of the leading causes of death (Credit: Pexels Library)

The visibility of boys and men’s health problems is sometimes clouded by suggesting men are responsible for neglecting their own health. In brief, yes, men made choices to neglect their health. But also, women choose as partners those men with a mentality of, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, not “when the going gets tough, the tough call a therapist”.

The cost of men going to emergency rooms rather than seeking preventive care is in the billions of dollars. The cost of men’s shorter lives, of dying earlier of nine of ten leading causes of death, and not taking care of our veterans after combat? Priceless.

It is estimated that more than 375,000 American lives would be saved in a single year if men’s risk of dying was as low as women’s.

Throughout human history, boys have learned to prove themselves men by calling it courage, duty, glory and honour to be disposable in war and at work. As long as we make this central to the definition of the transition from boyhood to manhood, our healthy sons will become unhealthy men.
More here >

#5. The Future of Work, and of Boys and Men at Work

One of every five men 25 to 54 isn’t working. And many of the jobs lost in the recession (really, a ‘mancession‘) aren’t coming back. The future does not bode well for men’s employment.

While women are more likely to hold jobs in stable sectors that are more recession-proof, like health and education (averaging 75% women), men are more likely to hold jobs in sectors that are outsourced overseas – such as computer technology and Internet-based jobs. In the past, the problem was a man’s job going nowhere; in the future, the problem is men’s jobs going elsewhere.

Men at work in construction
Many jobs lost in the ‘mancession’ aren’t coming back. (Credit: Pexels Library)

Some would say it should make no difference whether a woman or man earns the family’s money. In reality, though, few women choose husbands from the unemployment line. A man with little earning potential is less likely to find a wife, more likely to find himself divorced, and, once divorced, more likely to feel disconnected from his children. Moreover, unemployed men commit suicide at twice the rate of employed men. A jobless man is everyone’s loss.

Some would say it should make no difference whether a woman or man earns the family’s money. In reality, though, few women choose husbands from the unemployment line.

A first step to helping boys prepare for the type of work needed for the future is to restore vocational and technical education in schools. Currently, boys who are less academically inclined feel there is nothing they are good at. With no sense of purpose and low self-esteem, they drop out of school – and life. In Germany, for example, over two million German students attend vocational schools and spend part of the week in an apprenticeship. It is a joint effort of government, unions, companies, and chambers of commerce.

Being a great man, like being a great woman, is about finding the work-life balance that is appropriate to his personality, cognizant of the trade-offs of each decision, and true to the commitments he makes as he takes the journey from boy to man.
More here >

Conclusion

The Commission concludes that America’s sons face a profound crisis in education, work, and their physical and emotional health. Respected publications such as The Atlantic have seen the symptoms and predict The End of Men. If the symptoms are ignored, and our sons see the “end of men” as their future, they will have little inspiration for life’s journey.

If our sons see the ‘end of men’ or ‘the future is female’ as their future, they will have little inspiration for life’s journey.

As our history of male-as-sole-breadwinner fades as downsizing and outsourcing increase, both sexes will need to be prepared to raise money and raise children. Our daughters have learned to do both; our sons have not.

White House Council on Women and Girls
The White House – a place for boys too? (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

An idea whose time has come?

Writing recently in the new era of Donald and Barron Trump, Dr. Helen Smith, a forensic psychologist and author of Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream, wondered if is time to re-launch the idea of a White House Council on Boys and Men:

“to coordinate America’s best efforts to parent, mentor, and teach each of our sons to discover who he is. It can end the era of boys and men as a national afterthought. It can provide leadership to raise young men that our daughters are proud to love. I hope that President Trump and his staff will look into the issues facing men and boys in our society.

“Men helped him get to the White House and men’s issues such as work, health, and education need to be held as a high priority.”

dr-helen-smith-foxnews
Dr. Helen Smith and Men on Strike (Credit: Fox News)

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