Photo for BERES, front or tun, April 29

Girls are getting ahead, thank heavens, but sons need dads if they hope to keep up.

It’s been a long road but today, throughout the developed world, women seem to be doing as well as, maybe even better than, men. Women have become empowered and confident in who they are and what they can contribute to the world.

Today, there are more females than males in medical school, in business school, and in law school. Women are able to serve in every military job that they are physically able to qualify for. No one blinks an eye at female astronauts, plumbers, or race-car drivers.

Women are starting new companies 1.5 times more often than men. The women’s movement that has risen in response to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory has launched an unprecedented number of females into politics. The number of women running for Congress in 2018 is up nearly 350 percent from 2016. Why, within a decade or two, women may be running almost everything.

Yes, it’s a good time to be an American girl. She is thriving.

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Unfortunately, one cannot say the same about our boys — not in the U.S. or in any other First World country. In all 63 of the most developed nations, boys are lagging behind girls in every academic subject. They’re also suffering more from mental and physical health issues and have fallen behind their female counterparts in IQ tests and socialization skills.

In the classroom, boys face greater challenges than girls. By nature, boys fidget more, are more vocal, and tend to be messier than girls. They are far more likely to get in trouble at school, to be suspended, and to drop out. They are three times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

And their troubles magnify as they grow older. Boys are far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol — and they do so at earlier ages. Nearly 75 percent of all violent crime committed by teenagers is done so by young men. And in 2016, males accounted for nearly 78 percent of teen suicides in the U.S.

Even more tragically, when boys are hurting, they are far more likely to hurt others as well. Almost every mass shooting — in restaurants, schools, churches — has been at the hands of young men.

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In a recently released book, “The Boy Crisis,” Warren Farrell (who also wrote “Why Men Are the Way They are” and “The Myth of Male Power”) and co-author John Gray (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”), discuss the reasons behind this decline and the potentially catastrophic results if it continues.

Anyone who has raised young men will be able to relate to the concerns discussed in the “The Boy Crisis.”

Farrell, a world-recognized leader on men’s and women’s issues, points out that when “only one sex wins, both sexes lose.” Being rich and successful does a woman little good if she also wants a family but can’t find a decent partner to father her children and help raise them.

The biggest part of the problem, according to Farrell (and countless others have also pointed this out) is the tragic dilemma of boys growing up without fathers. Whether that happens because of divorce — mothers usually become the primary caregivers when a marriage ends — or because 53 percent of women under 30 now give birth out of wedlock, 25 percent of American kids are growing up in fatherless homes.

While that’s hard for children of both sexes, it can lead to real problems for boys.

Boys need a father figure to emulate. The young human brain learns mainly by imitating. A boy who doesn’t have a dad around to take cues from and model his behavior after is going to be hard-pressed trying to figure out how he is supposed to act. Heaven help us if that child is learning what constitutes male behavior by playing violent video games or watching TV and movies.

While women have become adept in so many formerly male-dominated jobs and roles, the one thing we cannot do is teach our boys how to be men. Sure, we can teach them right from wrong and other necessary life lessons, but we can’t teach them what it means to be masculine.

They need their dads to guide them, to teach them how to channel aggression and energy into positive behaviors. They need men in their lives with whom they’re comfortable discussing physical and emotional changes as they grow.

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Some of the solutions suggested in Farrell’s book are common-sense ideas.

Teach men and women to talk to one another — have real two-way dialogues rather than one-way monologues.

Get dads involved in children’s lives. A father who is there for his kids has a far greater impact on them than the dad who spends countless hours earning a big paycheck.

Give dads the option of being the stay-at-home parent. Turns out they can be just as nurturing as moms.

Farrell suggests that perhaps the best way to combat this national problem is to decrease divorce rates. That’s a start — and decreasing out-of-wedlock births is also vitally important.

It’s a coincidence, but still notable that the same month “The Boy Crisis” was released, researchers at Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine in Jerusalem announced that sperm counts in men living in developed nations have plummeted 59 percent in recent years.

Although they didn’t examine the cause, they noted the phenomenon has been linked to substance abuse, obesity, smoking, stress, and other poor lifestyle choices — the same issues that often arise when young men have no male role models in their lives.

Sure, there’s probably no correlation between these two male-centered, First World-only problems. But in some way, it seems to underscore the urgency that is needed to address the growing problems confronting our sons.

mberes@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6305 Twitter: @RobinBeres

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