How Do You Motivate the Unmotivated Young Man?
Recently, I have been hearing from many parents concerned about their 17-21 year old sons.
“Joe doesn’t seem to be motivated to complete his college applications!” his mom complained. Bill, in this second year of college, has no clue what to major in. Tom, finished up community college last summer. He has no idea what he wants to do. Max finished college last summer—living at home, his idea of job hunting is 180 degrees different than his parents. He stays up late playing video games and surfing the net and gets up late. His parents don’t know what to do.
On the other hand, many girls of the same age seem to be steaming ahead. I noticed this difference when my daughters were in their late teens. Their girlfriends were focused and fine-tuned about their future plans. They pounded the pavement for work, wanting to be independent. They obsessed about their college essays, wanting to craft a winner. They were focused on the future. But their boyfriends couldn’t seem to get out of bed. I often thought of them as the “lost boys”.
A review by the Postsecondary Education Opportunity organization in 2009 found that for every 100 girls applying for college, there were only 77 boys completing applications. And for every 100 girls obtaining BA degrees, there were only 73 males with bachelor’s degrees.
These statistics go further. Males are less likely to become high school graduates by the time they are 25-29 than are females. Male high school graduates are less likely to go straight to college than females. Since 1981, there have been more females enrolled in college than males. In 2009, there were 260,000 master degrees awarded to men, and 314,000 awarded to women. Young women appear to be surging ahead in the education department.
Not surprisingly, they are in front of their male peers at work too. One study found that single women under the age of 30 are making an average of 8% more in salary than their male counterparts. The gender gap of yesteryear is reversing itself.
But what is this all about? We do know that for many years educational institutions strongly encouraged girls to compete in traditional male areas—science, math, and medicine. There was a strong focus on helping girls achieve greater participation in areas dominated by males. Apparently these efforts have been successful.
The growing number of women physicians may be a good example of these efforts. In 1990, 36.4% of all medical graduates were female. In 2011, women docs accounted for 48.3% of graduates—a whopping 33% increase!
With the growth of two working parent families and the overall increases of women in higher paying jobs, girls have more highly successful role models to fashion themselves after. So perhaps these factors account for the increase in girl’s success stories. But what is happening to the boys?
The current theories seem murky to me. Perhaps the growth of single moms, who are head of many households, have reduced the potential for positive role models for boys. Some psychologists attribute the reverse gender gap to physiological differences (hard wiring) that may favor females in the educational race. Or, maybe we have neglected to push boys, assuming that they had some innate drive for success. The net result: a cohort of boys that don’t seem to have the drive that their parents have. They may find themselves working for their high school girlfriends when they reach adulthood.
So what can parents do?
Focus on the key elements for success. What predicts academic and vocational success? Persistence (as in not giving up too soon), hard work (as in applying effort when it is required), interpersonal skills (this is huge!), delaying gratification (hardwiring may be at work here), and goal-oriented behavior (as opposed to focusing on what feels good). All of these characteristics predict success and self-confidence. Parents may want to consider reinforcing these qualities as their boys develop. Starting early is important—adolescence is probably too late.
Don’t over indulge your kids. When the gender gap was in the other direction, we encouraged our daughters to make the grade, and then some. Maybe we pushed them to be in the game. Let’s not forget about our boys too. They may need an extra push when they are younger. Making everything “easier” for your child may not be a good idea in the long run.
So, what about parents’ of late adolescent boys—what do you think?