David Earl Johnson, LICSW

3 minute read

Here is another angle on concern about today’s adolescents and young adults. It appears that the malaise affecting African American adolescents and young men stretches across racial boundaries at least somewhat. More young adult males live at home stalling the transition to adulthood. There certainly has always been some cultural spill over from African Americans to Caucasions. Part of the attraction of the “[cool-pose culture][1]” has been the admiration it creates even among whites. But perhaps there is a bigger issue here. I suspect it’s the economy and lack of adequate paying jobs that would enable young males to emancipate. This has to create a discouraged attitude among the young. Then I wonder if the new computer/internet generation has gotten lost in fantasy games more so than anyone has guessed, perhaps in part because of the lack of opportunities. If the American Dream is out of reach, then why get on with life at all? I certainly have seen this discouragement in individuals. Could it be pandemic? WaPo

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. According to the Census Bureau, fully one-third of young men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents — a roughly 100 percent increase in the past 20 years. No such change has occurred with regard to young women.

Why? My friend and colleague Judy Kleinfeld, a professor at the University of Alaska, has spent many years studying this growing phenomenon. She points out that many young women are living at home nowadays as well. But those young women usually have a definite plan. They’re working toward a college degree, or they’re saving money to open their own business. And when you come back three or four years later, you’ll find that in most cases those young women have achieved their goal, or something like it. They’ve earned that degree. They’ve opened their business. But not the boys. “The girls are driven; the boys have no direction,” is the way Kleinfeld summarizes her findings.

Kleinfeld is organizing a national Boys Project, with a board composed of leading researchers and writers such as Sandra Stotsky, Michael Thompson and Richard Whitmire, to figure out what’s going wrong with boys. The project is only a few weeks old, it has called no news conferences and its Web site ( http://www.boysproject.net ) has just been launched. So far we’ve just been asking one another the question: What’s happening to boys? We’ve batted around lots of ideas. Maybe the problem has to do with the way the school curriculum has changed. Maybe it has to do with environmental toxins that affect boys differently than girls (not as crazy an idea as it sounds). Maybe it has to do with changes in the workforce, with fewer blue-collar jobs and more emphasis on the service industry. Maybe it’s some combination of all of the above, or other factors we haven’t yet identified.

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