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I’m a longtime fan of your work, Dr. Gray, and am so grateful for all you’re doing to bring awareness to the losses in freedom kids have been enduring over the years.

I’m guessing that the 1990 drop might be related to changes in parenting. 1990 teens were likely to be the products of homes where more mothers had returned to work. Teens of the ‘80s (I was one) and the early ‘90s are often referred to as “latchkey” kids and those parents are often now called “neglectful.” (I don’t agree with that as a blanket assessment.) However, there’s no doubt that kids in that era had much more freedom in their lives than the kids to come.

The societal pressures around parenting began to change in the late ‘90s with the rise of the parenting “expert” and that got intensified with the rise of the internet in the early 2000s. Parents were suddenly told they could not trust their intuition and they needed to listen to experts—and the experts were pushing a more intensive style of parenting. Combine that with losses of freedom in education after the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001, competitiveness over college admissions which rose in the early 2000s, fears over youth safety that began in the late ‘80s and only intensified over time, the rise of for-profit youth sports and test prep and tutoring companies, etc. and parents were suddenly getting the message that childhood was basically preparation for adulthood. Youth freedoms, as you’ve long been pointing out, we’re being stripped away from all sides.

I want to point out that I don’t blame parents for this rise in “intensive parenting.” They’re being bombarded with messages that if they don’t push their kids to succeed, the kids will fail. They are also not being supported in their abilities to trust their intuition as parents.

(Can you tell I’m working on a book about this?)

All of these things happened earlier than 2010 however. Why the delay? Because it took that long for these kids to reach their teenage years. And that’s when we started seeing the effects.

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Blaming the parents isn't helpful, in the sense that its just going to make them angry and isn't going to change their behavior. But are you saying they aren't to blame because they lack agency, don't know any better, and need to be told what to do ? Because that's the reason provided for compulsory schooling.

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Sep 15, 2023·edited Sep 15, 2023Liked by Peter Gray

One of the things that was different between the early internet and the later one was the primitive graphics of the early internet. The early internet was largely for readers. The later internet was largely for viewers. Reading, and listening to stories stimulates your imagination. You have to imagine your fictional world in order to partake of it. Books, and early internet games relies on 'the willing suspension of disbelief'. If you didn't engage with the world, you thought 'this book is boring' or something and stopped reading it.

Things changed as 'the attention economy' became a thing. Things were no longer left to the imagination, and that aspect of play was neglected in the favour of games and activities which were hard to put down. A friend of mine, who was a child psychologist since the 1970s, sadly now deceased, and whose specialty was children who had undergone trauma -- not abuse, in particular, but more of car accidents, earthquakes, having a close relative die -- and who were having a hard time getting over it. She said that early in her career, if you had a child who had difficulty imagining things in your office, this was likely to be a symptom of depression, and you had to look around and see if you could find a root cause of the depression, which might not be the earthquake or what have you that the child was having problems with. And a great many children other had problems precisely because they were so imaginative -- they could imagine so many, many, many things that could go wrong as part of an earthquake and felt oppressed by all the things that were out of control that didn't happen as much as those that were out of control and did.

At the end of her career she was treating more children whom, she thought, had 'lack of imagination' not caused by some sort of trauma she needed to discover, but simply because they were 'normally' unimaginative. Their imaginations were strongly constrained into imagining 'what it is that the adults want me to think and do' so they could obey them more effectively, and weren't available to help them 'imagine their way out of their own problems' or 'think about ways that this could be better'. They had managed to trade obedience for creativity, and the result was not good for them as soon as 'being obedient' became impossible or unsatisfactory.

Do we have any ongoing tests of creativity with results for the time period? It's hard to know whether this is a problem with children in general or with her patients, who are by definition a self-selected set without some sort of standardised testing.

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I recently began tutoring students, ranging from grades 1 through 9, and it has surprised me how quickly some will give up. I think this aligns with the "lack of imagination" issue, that imagining alternative processes toward solutions or different outcomes is not possible. That's sad, and I am not fully sure what has caused this. It can't simply be the result of too much screentime.

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Have you read David Brin's *Uplift* science fiction books? One of the recurring themes in it is that intergalactic civilisation is used to looking things up in their 'libraries' which contain all of the knowledge amassed by countless civilisations over the millennia. They're not very good at solving things on their own, and don't even aspire to be able to, because, they reason 'if the solution is any good, it will already have been discovered'.

I think that, overall, the ability to look up how to do what you want to do on the internet is a major win. But it has cost us a certain amount of 'knowing how to figure things out' which may be a factor here. People aren't used to struggling with a problem. Instead they learn to find better search terms.

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My cautionary SF tale is an old one from 1950, Cyril Kornbluth's short story "The Little Black Bag," one of the most prescient SF stories ever written, that predicts a future society of expert class and user class, where a powerful medical kit designed for use by the user class winds up in the past in the hands of people who are unworthy of its capabilities.

We are quickly approaching the stage where our own lives are divided by expert class and user class. Our technology is giving us "little black bags" that will cover every aspect of our lives, but we will not know how they work, will not have the power to oppose their use, and may end up with negative consequences because of our lack of forethought in adopting them.

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"Perilous to us all are the devices of an art deeper than we possess ourselves"

Gandalf

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Sep 14, 2023Liked by Peter Gray

Hi Peter,

Your choice of "constraints on independent activity theory" is at least quite descriptive, and any serious researcher will see what the issue is. There is a reason we don't generally use words like "imprisonment", and that is because its difficult to think clearly when feeling a sense of outrage. Mostly I just want to thank you here for your consistent efforts to think clearly and speak clearly about these matters. Its something that I decided, years ago, that I was just not cut out for. Too stressful.

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Perhaps there is a connection between boy suicide rate, and how accepting the society is of the image of "traditional" masculinity.

One thing that was different during the 80s' and early to mi 90s' was that during the Reagan/Bush years, the popular culture was infused with testosterone fueled imagery -- think Stalone, Schwartzenegger, Bruce Willis, Chuck Norris, etc. -- and all those stories and characters presented traditional masculinity in a positive way. Perhaps boys that grew up in that time period saw themselves as more normal, and more belonging into this world. As a consequence they had a better mental image of themselves and the reduction of suicide rates followed.

This time period of roughly 20 years is hemmed-in on both sides by 2nd and 3rd wave feminism, respectively. Both of these movements had enormous influence on our society, and on our popular culture. Consequently, they influenced how masculinity is both viewed by society and how it is presented in art. Needless to say, neither movement views masculinity in a positive light. The distaste for "traditional" men can be easily observed in the popular cultural "products" (TV shows, movies, etc). More recently, the cultural rhetoric has gone so far to call masculinity outright "toxic". Essentially portraying most men as somewhat damaged or "ill".

It is not unreasonable to hypothesize that a boy growing up in a society that apparently rejects his very essence would develop a negative mental image of himself, and would think he does not belong into this world (leading to higher suicide rates).

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I feel I really need to disagree with some of this.

For so long we have blamed woman and woman movements for the “suffering” of men. During these times woman have still been oppressed to a far higher degree than men, by men. I think it is men suppressing men more than feminism.

When a lot of people talk about toxic masculinity they are not talking about men/boy’s engagement in freedom and roaming. More the insanely high number of domestic violence cases, rape and murder when woman are disproportionately the victims.

This is the toxic masculinity that has woman in constant fear for their lives when doing something as simple as walking home from work in the evening.

I do believe there has been healthy traits strips from men. But not as a result of feminism.

In my mind a strong healthy man is someone with respect and responsibility towards family/community. And it is older men/media modelling bad behaviour that has warranted people to be discussing the toxic side of masculinity.

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I agree with a statement that a "strong healthy man is someone with respect and responsibility towards family/community".

Rapists, murders, wife-beaters and the like are not (and had never been) celebrated as such in our society. The feminism movements rightfully and justifiably attack these criminal behaviors. No-one has ever objected to that position.

However, the problem is that the feminist movements attack just about all behavior traits associated with masculinity, including those that have historically (rightfully) been viewed as positive....such as: being a protector, being a provider, being confident, being assertive, being dependable, being brave, being heroic, being a strong father figure, etc.

If you look at the portrayals of masculinity in the movies from the 80s' and 90s' it was exactly these positive traits was what were modeled and promoted...none of the movie heroes ever portrayed criminal types or criminal behavior in a positive light...quite the opposite. Frankly, movie heroes like Rocky, John McClain, or Walker Texas Ranger were all bursting with positive masculinity, and testosterone. and they were probably some of the best fictional role models a boy could grow up with.

As a counterexample contrast the above with the messages from the Barbie movie, which perhaps best embodies our current zeitgeist.

Feminism has long viewed the society as a zero-sum game, believing that in order for women to be successful and more liberated, they need to literally tear down men and boys.

Boys are literally being told that they are defective. No wonder that they develop a negative self-image in such a society.

It is my hypothesis, that it is precisely this negative self-image that drives the increase in boys' suicide.

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According to the graph suicide rates for males were at their highest between 1980 - 2000. So not sure if the die hard argument sticks.

I would like to think we could create a world where the idea that equality isn’t to blame for boys suicide.

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The suicide rate rise up UNTIL 1990, then they start a steep 18 year decline, until they reach the low.

There is going to be a lag between cultural influences on children and the suicide rate shown on that graph. This is because the suicide graph shows suicides committed by kids ages 15-19, at a specific year.

Boys that were already 15-19 in the mid to late 1980s (the ones shown committing peak suicides on the graph), were not really exposed to the Reagan/Bush era cultural ethos during their formative years. The formative cultural influences on them would be the ones from late 1960's and 1970s.

If you look at the movies from those times, the traditional-male types were generally portrayed as outsiders, misfits, and mastodons; essentially a species that should have gone extinct (think Dirty Harry or Death Wish). Consequently, this led to negative self-image in boys GROWING UP in that period, resulting in bad suicide statistics a decade or so later.

On the other hand, boys born INTO the Reagan/Bush "pause of feminism" mostly see positive portrayals of manhood GROWING UP, and end up forming a more positive self-image of themselves. This leads to a a drop of suicides a decade or so later ... i.e. in the late 1990s, and this dip holds for about 15 years or so (Essentially the length of the Reagan/Bush presidency. After which, the 3rd wave feminism takes over popular culture).

It's not that the idea of equality that is to blame...it's that modern feminism really isn't fighting for equality. Instead, it sees men as obstacles that need to be removed from society.

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It's interesting that many people will agree with an idea that books and movies should include positive portrayals of ethnic minorities, or women.

Many people point out the fact that high crime rates in minority neighborhoods could at least partially be blamed on the negative imagery of black men in popular songs, movies and other media. Likewise, many blame the cultural portrayals of women as being bad at math for not entering math and engineering fields in larger numbers.

There has been a concerted push in society to create better cultural images to help minority and female empowerment ( movies like Frozen or Black Panther come to mind).

People tend to agree that cultural portrayals have a definite effect on the way a member of a group might view himself/herself, and that these portrayals also affect life outcomes.

Paradoxically, these same people will deny any possible connection between prevalent cultural portrayals of boys and men, and their subsequent life outcomes.

Seems to me this purely ideologically driven.

Either this connection is true and valid for all, or it is untrue and invalid for any.

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The damage to our society by those preaching a gospel of "toxic masculinity" is incalculable, and the efforts to reeingineer boys and men to fit its new paradigms no doubt has scarred both them and our civilization permanently.

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I just wanted to say, I read quite a few Substacks, and this one has quickly become among my favorites. Great balance of data but also interpretation, focused on important but neglected questions, and clear/concise writing! Thank you for this gift

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Thank you, Gene.

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Good article, i may add that a part of the taking away of “freedom” of children and adolescents could be the onset of huge diagnoses of attention deficit disorder and the millions of prescriptions of adderal and other ADD meds. It suppresses personality, activity, brain function, and basically flatlines the beauty of the active, growing, inquisitive minds of children. I was told my son, who is 30 now, should be on these meds since he was hyperactive, intelligent, talkative, etc. but I would never do it. He grew out of this, and was/is very, very, normal, and successful and calm, polite, has character, etc. as an adult. Basically, he was a child and grew into productive adult with no mental problems.

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The "war on boys" has been well-documented, and our supposed expert class has committed an atrocity against boys by labeling normal boyhood behavior as some kind of "proto-toxic-masculinity."

When we "let boys be boys" within the confines of social groups where committed fathers are present and older men in the community can serve as additional stabilizing forces in the lives of boys and young men, negative outcomes fall.

But as long as the expert class keeps assaulting those foundations—and people in leadership positions heed their detrimental advice—we're going to fail boys and young men and experience more negative outcomes.

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Kind of strange that when nature produces just the kind of species member that the species needs to evolve and cope with the challenges facing it, some societies respond by finding ways of suppressing that member's potential ...

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It would be interesting to see a graph showing teen suicide rates, overlayed directly with:

A. Divorce rate

B. Percentage or number of single parent families

C. Percentage or number of kids living in households without a father

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One theory to the decrease in suicide in the 1990s is possibly the mainstream of anti-depressants.

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Stephanie, I'm going to look at this, too, in my next D post. Three was a rise in use of SSRIs with teens beginning around 1990 and then a decline in their use some years after that.

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But many antidepressants are not recommended for people under the age of 18, as it has been said that they produce the opposite result in teenagers.

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Yes, and I will suggest that the decline in use of SSRIs, because of belief in their harm, may have played a role in the rise, again, of suicides around 2010.

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You dismiss the changing death certification issue too quickly. I studied this carefully: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1943-278X.1991.tb00577.x In addition, addressing your main point, just one-third of teens' hanging deaths of the 1950s were classified as suicides, a likely misclassification persisting into 1968's innovation of the new "undetermined as to whether accidentally or purposely inflicted" category -- compared to nearly all hanging deaths by the 1980s.

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Hello Dr. Gray, Thank you for very informative and thought provoking articles on adolescent suicide. I am a boomer also and spent 30 years from 1971 to 2014 with a few departures working for the Boy Scouts of America. Over the years, starting in the 70's the BSA commissioned multiple studies which found that many teens felt that they did not have a single 'best friend' that they could go to or trust with their troubles. Of those that were in Scouting both youths and adults it was found that they did better in school and in life. Certainly, Scouting offered opportunities to get away (camping and other activities) from their home environment and to have fun with their friends/peers. While Scouting did teach leadership and positive values, that was done while the youths were 'having fun'. No boy (all boys in those days) ever joined to have his character developed. Today we tend to push adult issues on kids. Race (BLM), gender (LGBTQ...) and other social issues that get introduced to them in the schools, even at the lowest elementary levels. Kids don't get to be kids like you and I were. Not to say that we didn't have stresses. We were aware of the atomic bomb and we even had drills to move away from windows, get on the floor by our desks and go to bomb shelters. Beyond that, we were allowed to be kids, come home when the street lights went on, play outside and the neighborhoods were safe because most of the mothers were stay at home moms. There was an Eagle Scout some years ago, (about 25) who disarmed a student shooter in his school that was quoted as saying, 'if we are what adults give us for entertainment (movies, music, video games... ) then we are sex, violence and drug crazed.' PARAPHRASED... I think he made a good point. Sadly, I think things will only get worse. The BSA has declined by 90% over the past half century and much the same has happened to youths in churches. Again, thank you for your articles. John Whitford

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Hello John, I’m interested in your observations of scouts organisations of late. My two daughters used to attend cub scouts here in Australia, but my husband and I decided to withdraw them due to the pushing of the adult themes you refer to, i.e. gender, race etc. Are you aware of changes made either officially or unofficially since 2014?

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Here in the USA there have been two changes... one, membership/leadership is now open to LGBTQ folks as long as the chartering partner approves and we have a diversity merit badge that is required for the Eagle rank but not for any of the other ranks. The BSA here only admitted girls recently. Membership declines started in the 70's and since 1970 the number of single parent households has more than doubled. In the 80's and 90's the LGBTQ activists attacked the BSA as being homophobic and bigoted and were successful in taking away a great deal of funding. At the same time youth athletic programs including football, basketball and soccer expanded. The LDS church withdrew in part over the admission of gays to the program. Volunteerism has also seen a dramatic decline from youth programs, churches, service clubs and pretty much across all areas of volunteerism. Wokeism is infecting a lot of areas but is not the only issue. Hope this answers your question.

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I came here from your D3 post, and I'm grateful for your expertise in this area, Dr. Gray.

My wife and I have 5 children aged 11 and under, whom we are homeschooling. We use a curriculum based on Charlotte Mason's educational philosophy, which makes much of play and exploration, while reducing the amount of "classroom" time needed.

What you describe here is one of the reasons we chose to go the homeschooling route, because we saw how deficient traditional schooling options were in creating opportunity for play, beauty, art, music, etc. I do not see many researchers acknowledging the possibility of homeschooling as a solution to this, despite the growth we are seeing since COVID in families choosing this route.

I'm curious to know if, in your research, you've found any correlation to reduced anxiety, depression, and suicide rates for those children in homeschooling situations, or if the numbers are similar? Of course, the methods and motivations of homeschooling differ widely, but its hallmarks appear to be flexibility and individual focus, as well as a deep interest in a child's well-being.

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Hi Dr. Gray! I am an educator and school dropout. I also have a long history of struggling with my mental health. I feel like this connects directly to your article about our human right to quit. I also connect quitting to mental health in my blog response to your article. You can read my response here: https://www.offdabeatenpath.com/blog/peter-gray-said-quitting -- Thank you for your work! It continues to trail blaze an important path forward

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According to some studies, in 1990s suicide rates dropped due to SSRIs hitting the market and being available, and it rose again because 2003 FDA label warnings led to less taking the treatment.

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I checked the data from Australia, and it's almost eerie how perfectly our data fits what you have observed. A linear increase until about 1990, then a sharp drop until the early 2000s before it starts rising again. I'm really interested to hear your theories about the drop

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Hi! I found this from the Dept of Justice, Juvenile Suicides, 1981–1998

https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/196978.pdf

The data looks very different from what you have presented. There is no 1990 spike in suicides. Interestingly, they are looking at ages 7-17 and you are including ages 18-19. So it is possible the huge spike is only 18-19 year olds, but not those younger.

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My initial instinct to the overall data in your initial message was the it might have much to do with the shock of reduced status for males and increased status and independence for females. Men came back from WW2 to find women have replaced them in a variety of professions and have increased in confidence and status. Boys watched their "war-damaged" fathers and experienced the change most acutely.

This change in status and opportunity applies more starkly since 2000 and the MeToo movement. It manifests dramatically in the job market and career prospects for girls/women v. boys/men. All you need to do is check radio/TV (NPR, WBUR and such), where long term male presenters have dropped from sight and women flourish. Women even report on sports (football! the epitome of malehood!) Moreover, it is an aggressive change that manifests in language, in career opportunities, etc.

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