The Fatherless Generation
What’s causing the emotional vacancy in our boys?
Posted Aug 06, 2018
Ciao! Phil Zimbardo here with a brief exploration of how the males in our society are coping - or not - and what we can do.
Not long ago an article by Benjamin Sledge, a former soldier, for Medium.com caught my attention with the title, “Today’s Problem with Masculinity Isn’t What You Think.” Sledge had come to many of the same conclusions I had after decades of research: that boys and men in our nation suffer from what Sledge refers to as emotional vacancy. He states:
“We’re dealing with a generation that no longer has the skills necessary to cope with hardship and adversity. People are chronically lonely even though they’re more connected than ever...Many times, religious homes can be the most emotionally vacant place for a young man.”
Be a man
Most men my age have been raised to “Be a Man.” We inherently know what this means: Don’t ask for help, figure it out, buck up, suck it up, never admit failure, don’t even ask for directions. Emotions were for girls and tears for women; crying was for sissies. We learned to stuff our emotions into compartments until they seeped out sideways—in irritation and anger. Like Atlas, we carried our worlds on our shoulders, but many men are unable or incapable of sharing our true thoughts or burdens with others who might help us relieve them. The cost is that we end up suffering incredible stress and strain.
The Devastating Consequences
How do we deal? By working too much, eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much, and in these modern times, we retreat into the world of technology, where we can surf the net endlessly and have an illusion of being socially connected to our “contacts.” We suffer hypertension, high blood pressure, and heart attacks, and die seven years earlier than women. Social isolation permeates our species and leads to the deterioration of our bodies, minds, and spirits. Most men have no real friends living nearby that they can count on for help and comfort in time of need. And then half of us who do get married can’t make it work and end up divorced, some living alone, and surviving in boring jobs, living meaningless lives.
This sense of anomie, inadequacy, and pent-up frustration has devastating consequences — high rates of homicide, rape, abuse and battery statistics. With few exceptions, males, many of whom felt rejected or socially excluded, have carried out 98% of the 1,779 mass shootings that have taken place in the United States since Sandy Hook in Newtown, CT, four-and-a-half years ago with at least 2,005 killed and 7,515 wounded. Our male veterans and active duty personnel are committing suicide at a rate of 20 a day with an estimated 7,510 every year. Add to these the fact that the suicide rate after divorce is 10 times higher for men than women, and we truly have an epidemic.
If all that were not bad enough, we pass the wrong life message about what it is to be a man onto our sons. Our sons, who are the Boomers, aka “The Entitlement Generation” who gave birth to the Millennials, turned their back on this antiquated lesson and put their own spin on it: They have allowed their sons to raise themselves, effectively becoming “Generation Screwed.”
We note that too many of our young men are failing academically, socially, and even sexually. They are performing poorly in school at all levels, dropping out at alarming rates, unable to carry on civil conversations with women, to befriend them, and even to find sexual satisfaction in romantic/erotic relationships. Many have reported in a large-scale recent survey that they find their lives meaningless, without focus or purpose, lacking a sense of personal identity and self-worth. They feel they can’t compete with girls and women in school because females work harder to get better grades.
One contributor to their demise, which I explore in my book, Man (Dis)connected (Zimbardo and Duncan-Coulombe, Rider, 2015) and which Sledge mentions in his article, is the absence of dads as role models for achievement, given that over 40% of all boys live in a fatherless home due to divorce, separation, and absentee dads just working full time. America leads the industrialized world in this domain of fatherless families.
So what are our boys doing instead of schooling and socializing? Some are retreating into technology, becoming dependent on video games, which are designed to become ever more enchanting, and on the side also becoming addicted to freely accessible online pornograpy—a new killer duo for The Human Connection.
Time to Get In Touch with Your Human-Side
We can do something to help our boys and young men. We have the perfect opportunity at this critical juncture in our lives to leave behind our old ways of thinking about what it takes to be a man — or a woman. It is time to just be “HU-MAN.” Being overwhelmed, stressed, and strained are “human” experiences. However, learning to share our emotions and communicating about our feelings is healthy and should be an important part of problem solving.
Men have to learn to do what women do: Make time for friends, make time for family, and also make time to be a positive role model — a caring mentor — for sons as well as daughters. Time is not static and fixed; it is infinitely variable and subjectively created in our minds, to be stretched to fit our needs, expanded to enjoy current life experiences more fully, contracted for painful ones in the past and present, and projected into the future to optimistically imagine a joy-filled life ahead for each of us and our community of friends. (In Man (Dis)connected, we detail solutions to combat this new addiction to a virtual reality life for boys and men — government, schools, media, parents, women and men.)
YOU have the power to start changing the way you view your negative old thoughts and replace them with past positive memories. You can learn simple strategies to enjoy selected present hedonism and take better care of yourself, to enjoy fully good food, music, art, and romance. How? By learning about the importance of how you view time in your life and checking your personal time perspective.
Our website and books can help you discover some simple truths that can change your life for the better. You’ll learn the damage non-communication brings to relationships and the importance of carving out time from your busy schedule to spend quality time with those you love. Old dogs can learn new tricks just like young ones, and we older dads have the wisdom of age and experience to add to these life-enriching activities. But most of all, you will learn how to create an ideal future for yourself that will be a beacon of joy and good times ahead.
And although it may seem ironic given this column’s message, along with developer Rosemary Sword, I’ve helped develop AETAS – Mind Balancing Apps for iOS. So if you don’t have the time to indulge in reading a book, or if reading just isn’t your thing, there are apps to help you quickly learn more about yourself as well as ways to help cope with life’s stress.
Stedge, Benjamin, “Today’s Problem with Masculinity Isn’t What You Think” Medium.com, April 5, 2018.
Lopez, G., and Sukumar, K. “Mass Shootings in America since Sandy Hook” Vox.com, July 26, 2018.
Todd, Douglas, “Men and Suicide: The Silent Epidemic” Vancouver Sun, May 10, 2017.
Zimbardo, P. and Duncan-Coulombe, N., "Man Interrupted: Why Young Men are Struggling & What We Can Do About It" Conari 2016.
Zimbardo, P. and Sword, R., "Living & Loving Better" McFarland 201`7.