What's Happening To Our Young Men?

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Since September 11, 2001, the most heinous crimes on American soil have not been carried out by politically motivated foreign operatives. They have been carried out by young men: Adam Lanza in Newtown; James Eagan Holmes in Aurora; and Jared Loughner in Tucson to name a few of a depressingly long list.

Sure, the two young men who allegedly committed the Boston Marathon bombings were born overseas — but they lived here for a decade. And the younger of the two, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was a U.S. citizen.

In her book “The End of Men,” author Hanna Rosin explores how far men have fallen behind women — in college graduation rates, as well as in employment and advancement in the high growth service sectors of the economy.

Two million American men are in prison and half a million are suffering from post-traumatic stress and brain injury from service to our country. Male illiteracy and dropout rates are rising. Economic inequality between a privileged few and the great mass of working poor continues to broaden.

Of course there are many young men who are faring well in our country. Statistics do not tell the whole story, but they point to trends that tell a broader truth: many are struggling, and some are turning to violence as a last ditch, desperate solution.

Rational gun control would certainly be helpful. But frankly, it doesn’t address a kid who is determined to go into an elementary school and blow away 5- and 6-year-olds. Nor brothers who turn pressure cookers into homemade IEDs. If there is any conclusion I can draw from the chaos in Boston, it’s that the problem goes deeper, that there is an increasing alienation of an entire gender.

As founder of the Good Men Project, I’ve spent the last four years visiting boys’ schools and talking to young men. What I hear is frustration and isolation. Boys are pounded by macho images about modern manhood, but have no one to talk to about what it all means.

We need to be paying closer attention to our boys.

My plea is for a more open discussion about our outdated expectations of boys. We have to recognize that men of the next generation are facing huge challenges that we can’t will away by closing our eyes. We need to change the way men are portrayed in popular culture. We have to listen to what our boys are saying about their lives and be courageous enough to talk to them about the most uncomfortable topics. We have to make sure that far fewer of them are left behind.

The wars we have fought overseas have obscured the one we should be fighting at home, against the cauldron of anger and dissatisfaction among many of our young men that has tragically become a breeding ground for domestic terror.

Hopefully it won’t take another Boston, Newtown, Aurora or Tucson to see that our boys are in trouble.

This program aired on April 23, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.