Teaming up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan, Dr. Philip Zimbardo tackled a long-standing interest in the harmful effects of video games and pornography on young men for the new TED Book, "The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It," which covers the threats of "arousal addiction" and fatherlessness. We spoke with Zimbardo and Duncan about their research, alarming conclusions and what parents can do.
On the "enchantment" of porn and video games:
These things contribute to an arrested development. So much of what kids do happens in phases -- you do one thing, you get bored with it, you move on. The problem with video games and pornography is that they're enchanting the youth, and by enchanting, we mean drawing them away unfairly from advancing through phases. These things are designed to be addictive and benefit from your addiction, and so it becomes very difficult to move forward and develop further into maturity for a lot of boys since they feel their needs -- sexual and social -- are being met. This is especially dangerous when these activities are done alone and to excess.
On communication breakdown:
This is an epidemic. It's not a phase that boys just go through. Living on the Internet is becoming a problem for the whole society, let alone around the world. There's an illusion of connectedness. People can play video games over the Internet with each other, but there's no one side-by-side. That means you're not learning the basics of social interaction. So, when you meet someone, you don't know how to talk to them.
Parents show love to their children differently. A mother's love is unconditional. A father's love is conditional -- a father sets terms for a child to meet in order to receive approval. In a single-mother household, it is very important that the mother shift into a split role of both parents, offering love but also guidelines and discipline, to account for the lack of a male mentor present at home.
Gone, daddy, gone
"The phenomenon of boys growing up without fathers is critical," Dr. Zimbardo says. "There's a lot of research showing the devastating effects of growing up without a father -- cognitive functions, health functions, social functions. That's a killer combination."