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Fascinating essay. I'd just like to chip in this particular stress factor on boys (one amongst many of course):

"The focus in recent years on calling out sexual harassment (although broadly a positive thing) can....create a new kind of unfairness. Now, a perfectly decent young man hungry for romance can find himself in Catch 22: he knows from ancient folklore that faint heart never won fair lady but he also knows that - in lore of feminist-chic – one definition of sexual harassment is merely being hit on by someone other than the one that you had secretly been wanting it to be." https://grahamcunningham.substack.com/p/the-less-desired

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Dec 6, 2023·edited Dec 6, 2023Liked by Jon Haidt

This is not a data-driven claim, and it may have little to do with social media, but I wonder if relentlessly negative messaging about men (and patriarchy) might play a role. For instance, my two girls, ages 11 and 7, have been steeped in many well-intentioned narratives about female empowerment that often cast men in the villain's role. Take the Rebel Girls series, for instance. I worry about what that messaging might do to my 4-year-old son. Will he grow up thinking of himself as a problem? Will he take the slogan "The Future Is Female" to heart?

John Gottman claims, in his bestselling book "The 7 Principles that Make Marriage Work" that a healthy relationship often shows 5 positive interactions for every 1 negative one. That formula is not gender-specific: both men and women seem to need a disproportionate amount of affirmation to be capable of absorbing negativity or criticism. If the same principle holds in social relationships or in the social construction of gender identity, boys may well be getting dozens of negative messages about their gender identity for every positive one. That's likely hard to measure.

But when was the last time you read a column about domestic labor inequality by a male author in the NY Times? You read pieces like Lisa Taddeo's op-ed all the time: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/11/opinion/my-husband-and-i-dont-speak-the-same-love-language.html

I don't think boys are going to feel hopeful about their future until they can feel good about being boys. I'm not saying they need a "Rebel Boys" series, but they need much more than stories about themselves as predators, oppressors, and lackluster earners.

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Dec 6, 2023Liked by Jon Haidt

Finally. Someone is giving voice to the concerns many of us parents (moms mostly, because many man-boys are addicted to video games) instinctively had for years. The online world is squeezing the humanity out of young men and boys.

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When you tell one sex they are empowered and tell the other sex they are toxic it's hard to expect anything other than poor results. Men and boys have been bashed for decades. They have been blamed for all of women's ills. Boys are told they need to be more like girls. I am a therapist and have seen this up close for decades. It's hard to imagine anyone not seeing this and acknowledging this as an important source of the troubles boys face in our culture.

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Dec 6, 2023Liked by Jon Haidt

Our lawns are all dying, and we are vigorously and articulately bemoaning the color of the grass, without addressing the drought causing the problem. We have fallen before the altar of verifiable data while ignoring the unmeasurable but paramount effects of what all boys, and girls, need most. We all need to feel loved. The Beatles knew that—All We Need Is Love—but the word love has become diluted to the point that we talk about loving chocolate and each other in the same sentence. We all need love that is unconditional, the kind we don’t have to earn, the kind with no taint of disappointment or irritation—utterly unknown to most of us. All of thse truly terrible problems with our children are united by one thread—us, the parents, and our inability to give this unconditional love to our kids. We didn’t get it ourselves. Remember, this is love without disappointment or anger.

Let’s keep this simple: children without unconditional love are unavoidably in pain, and then we see their depression and suicides. We see them seeking solace in devices, isolation, addictions, and more. Will we finally address the root cause of the problems that Jon Haidt and others brilliantly describe? The practical solutions are already thoroughly described in the free websites RealLoveParents.com and RealLove.com.

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Thank you for your continued work in drawing attention for boys (and girls) to connect to the real world and avoid the virtual vortext. I recently listened to your podcast on the Trinity Forum Conversation with Andy Crouch, and have delved into your efforts at social media reform as well as the Let Grow project. All of these are crucial and hopeful steps in rehabilitating youth who have grown up as "ferals of the digital age". My husband and I have just released a post on "Sowing Anachronism" that encourages individuals to start from a bottom-up direction by unsettling the assumptions about omnipresent technology use. See https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/sowing-anachronism-how-to-be-weird?utm_source=activity_item.

Thanks again and I look forward to reading your new release!

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Boys have been falling behind girls in school and employment for many years now, trapped in a world that pathologizes everything they want to do. Of course this is widely ignored, because the societal imperative is to push women forward, with no thought whatsoever for the effects this has on boys.

I wrote about precisely the subject of boys abandoning the desert of the real for Pixel Valhalla here:

https://barsoom.substack.com/p/pixel-valhalla

If it wasn't for the digital opium of porn and video games, the social order we're trapped in - with too many young men consigned to a hopeless, sexless existence as despised incels, and too many young women becoming depressed, neurotic, barren cat ladies - would be far more unstable than it is. The ugly possibility is that the electronic narcotics are being encouraged as a deliberate strategy to keep disenfranchised young men from forming into gangs and changing things.

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One thing I didn't see mentioned and hope Jon will address (I'm sure he will) is the practice of boys watching other boys play video games. This is intensely passive behavior and only parents of boys (or teachers of boys, like me I guess) know how insanely common this behavior is. It's inherently passive which is its own issue. On top of this, I had many many students tell me over the years about how watching others play video games on YouTube introduced a great many aggressive, unsustainable behaviors to their little brothers' lives. My students were always overwhelmingly far more worried about "the next generation" than themselves. For the record, the vast majority of my male students sat on their phones all day every day in every class that took place in my former school.

I see comments from parents of teenage boys here and I do my best to feel your pain. I have two young daughters and am preparing for those fights. As I see it, the only way to help ALL kids - boys and girls, with all their different issues - would be to truly ban smartphones from classrooms and hallways.

It's hardly advice to the parent struggling in the moment with the 15 year old video game addict. But that's also how deep we may be. We need to think about how to save the next wave of kids. My advice I guess is to advocate for the removal of phones from schools in order to help all kids...and your kid is one of those kids.

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Two things can be true at the same time. Girls are in trouble. Boys are in trouble.

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"The War Against Boys" was written almost a quarter century ago. Many young men have withdrawn from the real world because the real world tells males they are literally toxic. They have grown up exposed to nearly all media ignoring or vilifying their gender, while glorifying and amplifying anything non-traditionally masculine.

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I am noticing the escalation of propaganda infused in everything surrounding my daughter and starting to realise just how much propaganda/nudging I was exposed to. Not healthy for anyone. I wish it would stop, it is everywhere now.

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I find it interesting but also a bit puzzling how closely your essay mirrors the concerns of feminism but does not mention it explicitly? I am puzzled as it seems like a deliberate exclusion of something that would be otherwise a very obvious inclusion. Feminism talks endlessly about women being socialised to be better at emotional labour and "people" (in reference to your article's delineation between average interests between men (things) and women (people)). Feminism addresses this issue directly talking about how current gender roles and expectations mean that men not being permitted/expected/taught/modelled how to have meaningful and effective relationships and navigate difficult emotional landscapes as there is still that perception that a "strong" or "real" man does not cry or express vulnerability or emotions (anger excepted of course - that emotion is the predominant emotion men are expected and allowed to experience), and that they are expected to dominate and control their surrounds - would that not also be an obvious push factor (one amongst others) towards the virtual world? The toxic tenants of the patriarchy are not preparing boys and men to live in a world that supports human rights for all (women included) and is pushing boys to a virtual world where they can live out what society is telling them should be their birthright: complete freedom from consequence, total control, sexual domination and choice, a lack of intellectual challenge or rigour, action over thought, etc.

The picture in your article shows a boy sitting in a grey classroom looking at a colourful magic world - the virtual world. And I take the point that you are making and completely agree.

But I add that that world also has some absolutely horrible and terrifying attributes and making reality more appealing to boys and men can't be confused with reintroducing the hideousness of a pre-1970s patriarchy, where women (and children I add) were chattels and purportedly "male" characteristics of aggression, domination and unrestrained sexual appetite were actively encouraged and promoted.

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It will be a corrective relief when we can have an conversation about "toxic femininity". Do women more readily sacrifice freedom for safety? Are womens' prefered form of aggression character assassination and what effect does this have in an economy that is now dominated by service industries? If for upper body strength 99% of women fall below the average male and we are expected to equalize the proportions of women in all careers, what does this mean for high risk professions like fire fighting, police, military, and heavy industry? Will this mean women will make up a higher proportion of management because of their limitations? What does that do to all involved when those that can't tell those that can when, where, and how to do the job? Even if the job discrepancies are small, they could still be significant. If I don't have a womb, how expendable am I?

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“…many have been lured into an ever more appealing virtual world in which desires for adventure and for sex can be satisfied…”

Self-efficacy is another thing that can (superficially) feel satisfied by virtual reality, leaving boys less inclined to pursue goals and accomplishment in the real world.

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It used to be a woman's job to civilize and socialize men. Now it's nobody's job.

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I'm sure someone somewhere has observed to you that "correlation is not causation" but one thing I do know, if there is a correlation, there is usually something that ties it together. Have you been able to sort out what that something is that is causing these mental ills? Rising ice cream sales in the summer do not cause rising heart attack rates, though they correlate nicely. The connection is thought to be rising temperatures. What is the rising temperature for this correlation? I'm guessing brain chemistry is affected in some way. At least toward becoming addicted to social media. But, what is missing in terms of emotional care that maybe used to be available and now isn't? Or maybe that we did not need before that we need to be deliberate about today?

I think of your point of boys withdrawing from the world. Isolation. Do we have any data on that? And any thoughts on a corrective? I know one answer is "take the phones away, and/or limit their use". But, is that the answer? Or something else relationally in the family and social dynamic in the real world?

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