I’m a fan of independent movies. They don’t offer the escapist relief from daily drudgery that many
mainstream movies do. But, they challenge your thinking and sometimes your sensibilities in ways that mainstream movies don’t.
|Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Don Jon|
Recently, we watched a movie written and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. TV buffs may remember him playing the youngest son on the hit series Third Rock from the Sun. Since then, he’s demonstrated a broader range as an actor is such films as 50/50 and (500) Days of Summer.
His new movie, Don Jon, is a disturbing portrait. Playing the title role, Mr. Gordon-Levitt also narrates the proceedings. An avid fan of Internet pornography, his character confesses – or perhaps brags – that he would rather watch porn than have sex with a real woman.
We’re so out of touch with what goes on outside our tidy suburban existence that we didn’t know what to make of it. So, we forgot about it.
A few days later, I was poking at TED.com and came across a short talk titled “The Demise of Guys”. The speaker, Phil Zimbardo, is a past professor of psychology at Stanford University and a past president of the American Psychological Association.
He outlines his case by citing statistics. Girls outperform boys at every level of education. Boys are more likely to drop out, more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD and more likely to be spending their time in front of a flat screen than with other boys.
“Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal,” claims Zimbardo. “That means they’re totally out of sync in traditional classes, which are analog, static, interactively passive.”
He doesn’t stop there. He goes on to say that young men watch Internet porn an average of 50 times per week. It seems they would rather watch porn than run the risk of having to relate to a real woman.
By now, I am beginning to think of Don Jon as a documentary not a work of fiction.
But, Zimbardo offers no solutions, just observations. For solutions, I turn to David Altshuler. David helps students and their families prepare for and apply to colleges. A former teacher, he also holds advanced degrees in educational psychology.
Writing in his blog, David poses two alternative realities. In one, parents spend time showing their young children how to create something edible in the kitchen, enjoy a day at the park or throw a Frisbee with the family dog. They make messes, get dirty, get bitten by bugs and overhear adults utter a four-letter word from time to time.
In the alternate reality, parents plant their children in front of the flat screen TV where they can watch shows about cooking, pets and nature. No mess, no bother.
I am beginning to see a connection between the Frisbee and Don Jon.
Lest you think that David’s theory is a bit melodramatic, he draws parallels between the flat screen watchers and an experiment performed by Harry Harlow. Harlow was a psychologist famous for his experiments on social isolation. Using rhesus monkeys as his subjects, he raised a generation of them in cages with no contact with others of their species. Their behavior turned psychotic. Moreover, they were irredeemable.
As I said at the outset, we sometimes feel as though we are out of touch and, indeed, we have not had the experience of raising a child in the 21st Century. In the pre-smartphone era when the twins were young, we were anti-Disney. We went on hikes, took ski trips, went white water rafting and spent hours in boats not catching fish.
|Peter Calia on the bow and brother Dan, both age 12|
Kids need the experience of scraping a knee, breaking a bone, contracting poison ivy and occasionally failing at something to grow up to be healthy adults. That experience doesn’t come from connecting to friends via an electronic device. Boys have a need to be with other boys. It’s in their DNA – sports teams, clubs, even hanging out watching the game. It’s Darwinian. Kings who couldn’t raise armies lost their thrones. Those who didn’t join armies lost their homes.
My posts to this blog usually focus on institutional LEADERSHIP. But, parents are LEADERS too. If you are a busy parent, it’s got to be tough to find the time to get your youngsters out of the house to experience nature or join their friends in an unsupervised activity.
But, it’s necessary to raise adults capable of healthy relationships and good citizenship.
WHO WILL LEAD?