Every day I hear another story of a teen boy who is slowly, yet seemingly systematically “checking out” of the world as we know it. These boys are generally very intelligent–in fact, they are often more intellectually astute than their peers. Many of the boys I have met or heard about have several traits in common: they are hungry readers, often drawn to science fiction; they love online video games and have entire tribes of online friends (and because their social lives are mostly taking place online, their parents see them as anti-social). They do well in school, but dread and hate school and have lost respect for the system that continues to force compliance and push threats their way rather than engage them.
There is a growing disparity between what these boys know and what their parents know–they know more than their parents will ever know about what they do online. The boys know this and it frustrates them because their parents have very little ability to understand their world.
The kids at most risk for depression are those who are naturally the most inquisitive, eager to learn and for whom traditional school comes easy. Chronic boredom leads to depression. Boredom occurs when the mind doesn’t find the things in the current environment useful or meaningful. Depression is a draining of meaning and usefulness. The answer is not in the condemnation of the Internet, computers, or gaming. Those things are not going away and I don’t believe they are even the real problem. The problem is in the gap; the gap between what we know and can do and what they are learning and are capable of doing. In many cases, they know more than we do. They can do things we can’t. And they know it.
If we fail to look at this phenomenon and begin to address it as a condition of our changing times, not the child’s personality problem, we are going to lose out a great deal of potential. We will lose these boys if we can’t engage them. Have you met any of these young people? What have you noticed?