Raising Little Boys and Thoughts on Andrew Yang’s ‘Why Boys and Men are Failing’ Episode
As a mother of a 2 year old boy, Andrew Yang’s recent episode on his podcast ‘Forward’ piqued my interest; “Why Boys and Men are Failing”. You can also watch the conversation between Yang and Zach Graumann on YouTube.
I found this an odd and intriguing topic given our culture’s current conversations around male privilege and patriarchy. What could Andrew Yang possibly reveal about some kind of systemic failure when it comes to boys and men in our country?
In a nutshell, the podcast episode is about how there are many boys and men in our country who are falling and failing in sad and even dangerous ways. And this really got me thinking about how to raise my little boy so that he could avoid a fate of what so many boys end up experiencing. So before I address my conclusions, I will summarize some of the key points Yang shares in “Why Boys and Men are Failing”.
Andrew Yang on “Why Boys and Men are Failing”
First, it’s important to acknowledge that Yang is primarily concerned with the typical or average American boy. He points out that “society pays a lot of attention to outliers”. For example, the male celebrities and executives in the media who are making more money than their female counterparts, really don’t generalize to the average boy or man.
So he emphasizes this point that when we talk about gender injustices with men coming out on top, we are often only looking at what is happening in the “super lucrative fields”. While this is certainly still significant, it simultaneously obscures a whole category of boys who are growing up and struggling to find their way.
For example, Yang and Graumann discuss the following;
- The typical boy is falling behind girls in primary school by a year and half in reading and writing
- Boys are more likely than girls to be suspended, held back and drop out of school
- Boys are more likely than girls to get involved in crime, drugs and alcohol
- Boys are more likely than girls to receive an ADHD diagnosis
- While girls make more suicide attempts, boys are more likely to succeed
- More women are attending college than men
And if typical boys are falling behind right off the bat in primary school and are also less likely to attend college, Yang says that this means they continue to struggle as they get older. This means they have trouble finding work and are less likely to form families.
Additionally, many jobs that non-college educated men have historically held are disappearing or have already disappeared. Yang states that over a 15 year period, 5 million manufacturing jobs have been lost. And that three quarters of those lost jobs were held by men. And there have been no jobs to replace those lost jobs.
So as these men struggle to find work and form families, their sense of self worth is plummeting. And this leads to unproductive and often unhealthy or even dangerous behaviors and sentiments.
Many of these men start to isolate themselves and become anti-social. They may also start drinking, doing drugs or spending an excessive amount of time playing video games (a world which they can access some feeling of significance, moving forward in ‘life’ and community).
Yang states that women, for some reason don’t tend to be as prone to this kind of behavior and loss of self worth when they are faced with “idle” time. While women may start spending more time and talking with friends, many men on the other hand don’t know how, or are afraid to communicate their feelings.
So this inability to express vulnerability, turns into fear and anger. Yang and Graumann bring up this issue of angry men throughout their conversation.
Yang also discusses how these men are vulnerable to adopting “toxic ideologies”. Because with those ideologies, they gain a sense of belonging and importance. However distorted this may be, those ideologies help take away some of those feelings of insignificance. And this could be for example, why tragedies like mass shootings are dominated by males.
Yang and Graumann also discuss how this boy problem ultimately becomes a big problem for women. By addressing the issue with boys, Yang explains that he is not trying to ignore or sideline the feminist movement; rather he wants to widen the scope of the feminist perspective. To acknowledge that addressing this boy crisis, is actually in support of women as well.
For example, boys who grow up into these angry men with low self worth are often those men who end up subjecting women to domestic violence or engaging in other destructive behavior towards women. Or they may be men who end up out of the picture when it comes to raising their own children. And then those children do not grow up with a father and role model, and this particularly and negatively impacts boys.
It seems that Yang and Graumann are primarily focused on outlining and explaining the issues and problems when it comes to why boys and men are failing, but they do sprinkle in some discussion on possible solutions. I won’t dive too much into these, but universal basic income, new government policies and new job creation for all education levels are among some of the discussed solutions.
Additionally, Yang and Graumann talk about addressing these problems early on with young boys. The problems get harder to solve once boys have turned into grown men.
There was much more to this podcast, but the above are some of the points that stood out for me. So now I want to talk a little bit about how all of these points are relevant to me as I raise my little boy. While Yang is interested in discussing solutions at a government and policy level, I want to share my thoughts on solutions at a nuclear family level as a mom.
Teaching Boys to Communicate their Feelings
The first issue that stands out for me from Yang and Graumann’s conversation is how many boys are growing up into angry men. This in part comes from the fact that they do not know how to communicate or express vulnerability. So how can I, as a mother to a little boy, teach my son to acknowledge, communicate and effectively manage his feelings?
I talk about this in my post on Helping Toddlers Deal with Big Feelings. I think one of the most important aspects is to let our children know that their feelings are valid and to help them identify their feelings.
While we let them know that their behaviors are not always appropriate (hitting when frustrated, etc), we let them know that their feelings are always worthy of acknowledgment. And this means they learn to understand that it is okay and safe for them to have feelings, talk about their feelings, and manage their feelings.
Supporting Boys’ Confidence and Self-Esteem
The next issue that caught my attention from Yang and Graumann’s conversation was how these struggling boys and particularly men have a poor sense of self worth. Their confidence and self esteem is completely in the toilet.
How then, can I raise my son to hold onto his sense of self-worth as he grows up? He will inevitably face challenges and things won’t always go his way, so how do I encourage him to always stay connected to a strong sense of self-worth?
I think at the most fundamental level, I show him everyday that he is loved and that I am delighted simply by his existence. I pay attention to him. I talk to him, I listen to him, I play with him.
And I notice what he is interested in, and I encourage those interests. I don’t try to force my own interests upon him, but I let him fully engage with those things that naturally spark his curiosity. Maybe this will allow him to find work when he is older that he finds meaning, purpose and significance in.
In my 2 year old’s case, he is OBSESSED with cars. So when we go to the library, we look for car books. He picks them out himself and he loves reading them over and over and over. Although it drives me crazy sometimes reading about excavators and monster trucks all day long, I know that by nurturing his interests, he is developing a love for reading that will serve him well as he grows up.
Modeling Healthy Relationships for Children and Being There
And a last issue that Yang addresses is in regards to having 2 engaged parents in the household to support little boys (This is not to say that single parents aren’t amazing parents of course) . So I think about how my husband and I can have a healthy relationship so that we can always be available for my son.
And also, how we can model a healthy relationship for my son; things like speaking kindly to one another, helping one another and enjoying each other’s company. I am so lucky that my husband is the best kind of person and always treats me with kindness. And I am so glad that this is the male role model that my son has and is going to have as he grows into a man.
If you have any additional ideas on supporting the healthy development of little guys, or are also an Andrew Yang fan, say hi and leave a comment below!