Young Men are Educationally and Relationally Doomed

According to psychologist Philip Zimbardo, young men in America are doomed–at least they are educationally, relationally, and sexually. As he says at the beginning of his recent TED Talks video, “The Demise of Guys,”

Guys are flaming out academically, they’re wiping out relationally with girls, and sexually with women. Other than that, there’s not much of a problem.

You may remember Zimbardo from his famous “Stanford prison experiment,” which divided students into “prisoners” and “guards” to study the effects of power relationships. Now he’s looking at why it is that young men in America seem to be performing poorly in so many areas. Educationally “girls now outperform boys at all levels from elementary school to graduate school.” And relationally guys are rather clueless. (That’s been true for a long time, but apparently it’s getting worse.)

And Zimbardo argues that this comes largely from three things:

  1. Excessive internet use
  2. Excessive video gaming
  3. Addiction to pornography

All three of these contribute to the growth of “arousal addictions.” In other words, constant exposure to these technologies creates an addiction to “difference.” As Zimbardo says, “Boys brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way for change, novelty, excitement, and constant arousal.” And this arousal addiction causes problems in the classroom, where more “static” forms of teaching are the norm, and in significant relationships, which “build gradually and subtly.” As a result, young men perform poorly in both areas, and it’s not getting any better.

Zimbardo offers no solutions to these problems. As he states candidly at the end of the video, he’s just an “alarmist.” But he does add his voice to the growing number of people concerned about the impact of constant technological stimulation on young brains.

Here’s the whole video.

You may also be interested in my follow-up posts on why “Your Daughter Is More Likely to Get a Degree than Your Son” and “The Great Porn Experiment and the Resurrection of Guys.”




  1. says

    Zimbardo is one of my favorite social psychologists, right up there with Roy Baumeister, and I had watched this TED talk recently. Naturally, the response from the hard-core gamers and basement-dwelling keyboard-pounders has been an unthinking roar of hate.

  2. says

    This is something my wife and I debate with her mom all the time. She is a special ed. teacher and consultant who is big into all the new media based educational tools. She pushed to have iPads for her teaching and won. We homeschool our kids and she is always trying to get us to use all these cool apps and educational technology for our kids. We are really fighting it for many, and more, of the same reasons mentioned in this video. She keeps saying this is where education is going and we respond with, we know but that doesn’t mean it is good.

    Time has told us but it will take more for others.

  3. PGR says

    I have a son and daughters, and honestly this makes me more concerned for my daughters. I can influence my son now not to be a “banana slug.” But the guys my daughters might marry? I don’t want to think about it. And frankly, there isn’t much I can do except educate/teach/pray for my daughters – and have them realize their pool of choices is smaller than they might think.

    BTW, Zimbardo is also “famous” for getting taken to the woodshed on The Colbert Report:-)

    • Beth says

      This was my immediate thought as well. My husband and I have three daughters, and I’ve seen the pool of mature, marriageable men shrinking in my lifetime so far; how much smaller will it be when my girls are at that age? It makes me pray constantly for them, their future husbands, and for their contentment with singleness.

    • says

      I have the same concern that you mention. My daughters are too young for me to having long thoughts about their potential mates. I have been helping my god-daughters (ages 16-21) navigate dating life and I am often amazed at the pool of young men around them.

      We have to keep praying for the young men around us. We also need to grab those same young men and help them move on into adulthood.

      • Jennifer says

        Agreeing with Carlton. The Scripture tells us, “if one is taken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in meekness….” Some of the mature Christian men need to stand up, grab some of these younger ones and show them the right way, make them accountable for their actions…

  4. says

    Men need to be challenged. In order to be challenged, they need a something worth fighting for. We need our Christian male leaders to stand up and cast a vision to our young men that is worth dying for. Video games should not be able to compete with the sense of accomplishment, with the challenge and mission, that is available in Christianity for the man that will take it on. I wouldn’t say it is a problem with the young men, but with the lack of vision provided by today’s leaders.

  5. says

    I’m watching this dynamic all the time, as a mom of a teenage boy and two younger daughters. It’s very hard to be a boy growing up these days. The “old models” of what it means to be a man no longer fit. The world has changed too much. Boys get such mixed messages about how they “should” act, and I think this makes a lot of them just shut down.

    In my opinion, the internet and video games are just outlets, they are not evil in themselves. It’s like blaming the phone for someone having an inappropriate conversation. If we are going to help boys, we need to dig deeper and understand the dynamics of what they are going through. And just repeating the same rules about what they “should” do and how they should act, are not enough.

    When we clamp down hard on kids and restrict them, we suffocate them. Then it’s harder for them to work through it all, harder for them to grow. My son went through a period of time with video games, but it didn’t last very long. We never got tough on restricting it, just made sure he was also doing the other things he needed to be doing. And it just faded out on its own. We spend a lot of time having honest conversations about things, life, how to act, etc. but we don’t enforce a strict set of rules or else. Of course, every kid is different and every situation is different.

    I’ve been reading a book called Practical Wisdom, that makes a convincing argument that the more rules we are expected to follow, the less we develop the ability to take responsibility, make our own healthy judgments, and gain wisdom. As in, we should be helping our kids learn how to take responsibility for how they spend their time and make their own decisions about that (and let them deal with the consequences of their decisions) rather than just controlling them.

    Been writing about just these kinds of things lately!


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