Big Differences

The research supporting my earlier book, Bringing Up Boys, showed unequivocally that boys were in serious trouble on many fronts. From pre-school to adulthood, they were doing poorly on almost every measure of emotional, educational, and physical health. Boys were two times more likely than girls to have learning disabilities, three times more likely to be registered drug addicts, and four times more likely to be emotionally disturbed. They were at greater risk for schizophrenia, autism, sexual addiction, alcoholism, and all forms of antisocial and criminal behavior. They were ten times more likely to commit murder, and their rate of death in car accidents was greater by 50 percent. Seventy-seven percent of delinquency-related court cases involved males.

There is every reason to believe that boys generally continue to flounder today. Compared to girls, they have serious liabilities in school. There is hardly a place anywhere in the world where they read better than girls, on average. Here in the United States, boys are outnumbered 124 to 100 in advanced placement courses. According to sociologist Andrew Hacker, three out of four girls who are seniors in high school report spending an hour or more on homework per day, compared with only half of the boys.

As might be expected from these statistics, fewer boys attend and graduate from college today. Fifty-nine percent of all master's degree candidates are women, and the percentage of men in graduate-level professional education is shrinking every year. When eighth-grade students are asked about their future aspirations, girls are twice as likely to say they intend to pursue a career in management, the professions, or business. Boys, by contrast, often don't know what they want. I've found that even in the latter years of high school, they are less inclined to set goals or consider working hard enough to achieve them.

This lack of academic motivation in many boys carries major implications for girls and women. Already, professional women are finding a shortage of men of comparable education available for possible marriage. Someone has said with a smile, "There are so many Cinderellas and so few princes." Males and females have been designed for one another, and they are interdependent in countless ways. Anything that affects one sex is certain to influence the other, both positively and negatively. That's why the war between the sexes, which has continued at a fever pitch for nearly forty years, is so unfortunate and foolish.

Well, that brings us to the subject of girls. How healthy are they emotionally and physically? Although our daughters are doing rather well academically and on some measures of social and personal health, I have to tell you that, in many ways, I am even more concerned about girls than boys. So much has changed for the worse in recent years. Girls are under enormous pressures rarely experienced by their mothers, grandmothers, and other women in previous generations. Today's little girls are being enticed to grow up too fast and are encountering challenges for which they are totally unprepared. That is a generalization with many exceptions, of course, but far too many females are in trouble.

Their turmoil is evident within an array of behaviors that make no sense to family members, friends, and onlookers. For example, a rising incidence of eating disorders, including anorexia and bulimia, is besieging the young. This obsession with extreme thinness has swept through Western nations like a viral epidemic. Although it has numerous and complex psychological causes, it is driven primarily by a fear of being fat, or even chubby, during the childhood and adolescent years. Ninety percent of those affected are girls, beginning as early as five or six years of age.  Imagine that! Some of the tiny anorexics are still in kindergarten! According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40 percent of nine- and ten- year-old girls have attempted to lose weight. Never before have children been so preoccupied with the shapes of their bodies. Eventually one-third of these girls will turn to dangerous methods of losing weight, such as diet pills, laxatives, vomiting, fasting, and extreme exercise.  By the time they are fifteen, more than 60 percent will be using these harmful substances and methods.15 We'll talk in upcoming chapters about how this fear of obesity often leads to anorexia, bulimia, and other maladies.

There are other serious concerns for middle and high school students, some of whom are cutting and mutilating themselves and piercing their tongues, lips, noses, eyebrows, ears, navels, nipples, and private parts with spikes and rings. Some try to symbolize darkness and death in their fashion choices and bodily adornment. Others are involved in sexual aggression, drugs and alcohol, bullying, deceit, and rebellion at home and in school.

Helping to promote some of this dangerous and antisocial behavior is an array of "bad girls" on parade throughout the culture. They are pop icons, starlets, and American idols who are highly influential among teens. Although the in-crowd is constantly changing, today's superstars include Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and numerous other sexpots who help to warp this generation of young girls. The most brazen among them don't wear undergarments at times and have even allowed themselves to be photographed by the paparazzi from strategic angles.

Another of the "bad girls" is Angelina Jolie, who said in an interview with a German women's magazine, "I doubt that fidelity is absolutely essential for a relationship. It's worse to leave your partner and talk badly about him afterwards. Neither Brad nor I have ever claimed that living together means to be chained together. We make sure that we never restrict each other."

Never restrict each other? I guess that means Angelina and Brad sleep with whomever they please and expect their relationship to be unaffected by it. Time will reveal that they are tragically wrong.

The unfortunate fact is that these brash superstars have become role models for millions of girls. They lead vulnerable wannabes to despise the way they look. How can awkward, newly minted teenagers with braces and acne measure up to the perceived standard of perfection? Obviously, most cannot. So they hate themselves for what they are and what they can never be.

A growing number of today's kids are also binge drinking, according to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University. In one specific six-month period, 31 percent of girls drank liquor as compared with 19 percent of boys. Though the numbers are smaller, there is a disturbing trend for teen girls to strip off their clothes for money.

Prostitution is related to that behavior, of course, and appears to be spreading. Those involved in sex for hire are getting younger, and they tend to be middle class. The majority of them are not runaways or "lost kids." They are ordinary teens looking for attention, adventure, money, and a way to fill the void inside.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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