While Niobe Way was working toward her PhD in counseling at Harvard University in the late 1980s, she was struck by the fact that boys frequently told her during therapy sessions that they wished they had better friendships.
Decades later, Way, now a professor of developmental psychology at New York University and the author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, has interviewed more than a thousand boys and has found that little has changed. “The culture of hypermasculinity makes it harder for boys to form relationships, and that leads to a crisis of connection,” said Way, who has discovered that while boys desire connections with peers, they tend to distance themselves as they age, due to social stigmas.
“I feel pretty lonely and sometimes depressed… because I don’t have no one to go out with, no one to speak on the phone, no one to tell my secrets,” confided one high school boy in Way’s book, expressing a typical sentiment. “I tried to look for a person, you know, but it’s not that easy.”
While the teenage years have always been a time for critical development and heightened emotions, America’s teens now seem to be struggling more than ever—especially boys. One study found that the rates of depression increased by 52 percent in teens between 2005 and 2017, and in 2019, 70 percent of teens reported anxiety and depression as major problems. For boys in particular, there has been an alarming rise in suicides among older teens (15 and older) since 2000, and they die by suicide at three to four times the rate of girls.