The March Philly Mag cover story on “The Sorry Lives and Confusing Times of Today’s Young Men” is generating a lot of comments, so the editors asked me to explain how I came to write it. When I was in high school in Doylestown in the 1970s, there was a clear path to success. I and my fellow C.B. East grads went away to college, graduated, found jobs, bought cars, found spouses, bought houses, had babies, had lives. I assumed my kids’ generation would follow the same well-worn trajectory: out of Mom and Dadâ€™s house and off into the world. Which is why it came as such a surprise a few years back to look around at my friends and relations and realize: Something strange was happening. Their daughters, sure enough, were treading what Iâ€™d always thought of as the path to success. But oh, their sons! Half a dozen of my relatives had promising boys who just gave up on college. One friendâ€™s son got kicked out of school for drinking and bad behavior. Another close friend had all three of her darling boys back in the nest after theyâ€™d dropped out of college. She and her husband took to going on weekend getaways just to escape the depressing atmosphere of failure to launch.
My default assumption when a kid is unsuccessful is pretty brutal: Itâ€™s the parentsâ€™ fault. But how could it be that so many people I likeâ€”I loveâ€”were abruptly revealed to be lousy mothers and fathers? And Iâ€™d never once suspected as much?
But if it wasnâ€™t the parenting, what? What would cause what seemed like an entire generation of male offspring to be content to curl up on Momâ€™s sofa and play Call of Duty all day long? Didnâ€™t they want educations? Didnâ€™t they want jobs? Didnâ€™t they even want to get laid?
I had to know. So I set off on a months-long journey to try to figure out why young women all around me seemed to be thriving, while young men were folding their hands. I read up on the research. I talked to sociologists, psychologists, physicians, authors, those successful young women and, most interestingly, to young men whoâ€™d given up and moved back home. And I discovered that the causes of this strange generational malaise were much more complicated than Iâ€™d ever imagined. Young men today are trapped by a perfect storm of societal forces: overbearing parents, an educational system that plays to the strengths of women, a brutal job market, big industries (movies, online porn, video games) that laud boorishness, and a popular culture that urges them to sing along with Bruno Mars:
Today I donâ€™t feel like doing anything/ I just wanna lay in my bed â€¦
The result, as laid out in the cover story, is a tragedyâ€”not just for these lost young men, but for the parents who love them, and for the young women who long to love them and share lives with them. I expect Iâ€™ll hear from a lot of angry young men about what I wrote. I want them to know: Now that I better understand their plight, I donâ€™t blame them for it. And Iâ€™m sorry, along with all the other parents I know, for our own contributions to the mess.