Beyond Resilience: helping girls and boys to become UnFragile

Presenter:  Leonard Sax, MD, PhD

Author of Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift


Why are so many kids today so fragile? Why are kids today so much more likely to be anxious and/or depressed, compared with kids from the same neighborhood, 30 years ago? How have other schools changed their school culture to help their girls and boys to become antifragile? How is “antifragile” different from “resilient” – and why does the difference matter? Why is “resilience” not quite the right objective? sometimes begin the workshop with a cover story from Maclean’s magazine, September 2012, about students who were successful, doing well in school, had lots of friends, but who then fell apart – became severely depressed, or even committed suicide – on very short notice, with seemingly little provocation. The article asks the question: Why are so many good kids falling apart? Here’s the link to the story: (Maclean’s is the most popular news magazine in Canada.)


We then cut to Nassim Taleb’s recent book Antifragile. Taleb defines fragility as sensitivity to volatility. If that definition is valid – and I think it is – then one reason that so many students today are so fragile might be because their parents shield them from volatility and uncertainty. The remedy, then, is to expose kids to more volatility, within constraints: you don’t want your child to be run over by a truck or abducted by strangers.

For example, consider the choice of a summer job. Thirty years ago, many of us who were teenagers back then took a summer job doing unskilled labor, waiting tables or washing dishes. Today, many parents encourage their teenage daughters and sons to take unpaid summer internships with prestigious companies, or to do some sort of academic summer camp so as to be better-prepared for the fall. I will present evidence that the summer job waiting tables at an average restaurant may be better preparation for real life. Having crabby customers yell at you, and being yelled at by a boss who doesn’t care about your feelings, is exactly the exposure to volatility which Taleb prescribes in order to become antifragile. (Being antifragile is NOT the same thing as being resilient, as Taleb emphasizes and as I explain.)


This workshop can be structured for students; for teachers and counselors and school administrators; and for parents. The more stakeholders we can involve in the community, the greater the likelihood that we can really make a difference. When I meet with students, the workshop is conversational in format. We consider how the emphasis on grades and test scores and extra-curricular activities and putting together the perfect post-secondary application can be corrosive, a “race to nowhere.” What’s the alternative? What’s the difference between preparation for university and preparation for life? The differences are substantial, and success in one does not guarantee success in the other.


The workshop for teachers and counselors and school administrators highlights how we can broaden the culture of the school so that each student has multiple metrics of success and multiple avenues of communication with teachers and staff. We also discuss the current state of teacher-parent relations at that particular school. At some schools, some parents have adopted an adversarial tone with teachers. In the workshop for teachers and in the presentation for parents, we consider how counter-productive and unhelpful that adversarial tone is. Parents and teachers both want students to succeed; they are on the same team. So the bulk of the workshop, both for teachers and for parents, is about what is required to help children and teenagers develop the characteristic which Taleb describes as “antifragile”, and how that’s different from robustness and resilience.


More information about me – my background, my education, my experience as a physician and a psychologist, the previous schools where I have led workshops, and other training workshops I offer – is available at


I hope to hear from you! Please call 610 296 2821 between 9 AM and 4 PM Eastern Time, or send email to with copies please to and to If you don’t get a prompt reply to your email (within 48 hours), please call – not all emails get through.


Leonard Sax MD PhD

64 East Uwchlan Ave, #259

Exton PA 19341

Telephone: 610 296 2821


Comments from attendees at my presentations


“Dr. Sax’s presentation was wonderful beyond words. We were blown away by the material, which was presented in a clear, sophisticated and thoughtful manner. We are grateful to Dr. Sax for sharing his immense expertise with us. Many families and children will benefit from the information he imparted.”

         Genevieve McCormack, Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania


 “Everybody at Merchiston commented favourably on Dr. Sax’s sessions yesterday.  He is impressive and knowledgeable across so many fields.  Every assertion was backed up with evidence.  We would love to have him back at Merchiston for seven to ten days.  I learned a huge amount and so did everybody else. Of all the presentations we have had in my years at Merchiston, Dr. Sax’s was by far and away the most impressive.” 

Andrew Hunter, Headmaster, Merchiston Castle School, Edinburgh, Scotland


“A great day. Wonderful presentations. . . the parents and staff were overwhelmingly enthusiastic.”

Christine Jenkins, Principal, Korowa Anglican Girls’ School, Melbourne, Australia


 “Dr. Sax is the Al Gore of the gender crisis.  He has EDUCATED us about the nature and scope of the problem.  He has WARNED us about the consequences of doing nothing.  And he has INSPIRED us to take action in our schools and in our communities.”

Michael Halfin, Huron Heights Secondary School, Newmarket, Ontario


 “Of all the sessions I attended, Dr. Sax’s was the only one which gave me concrete information I could use in the classroom.”

Daren Starnes, Chair, Department of Mathematics, Lawrenceville Academy, New Jersey


“What an impressive evening!  We have never before been to an event where 600 folks sat, spellbound for two and a half hours, laughing every 3 minutes and uttering ‘Wow’ every 5.”

       Steven Masters, Saltus School, Hamilton, Bermuda


 “I stayed up past midnight talking with my colleagues about what I heard at Dr. Sax’s presenta­tion earlier that day.  His talk was brilliant and inspiring.  I confess to feeling a poverty of words in trying to convey how much I enjoyed hearing Dr. Sax and how much I appreciate what he is doing.”

Gerald Grossman, Head, Woodlands Academy of the Sacred Heart, Lake Forest, Illinois


“Dr. Sax gave a fabulous presentation at the Niagara Principals’ conference.  My colleagues are still all aglow with what they heard and have purchased more than 200 of his books through a local provider – I know, because I arranged the sale.  We would very much like to have him back.” 

Gary King, vice principal, Lakeview Public School, Grimsby, Ontario


“I have been providing professional development programs for educators in St. Louis for nine years and no one comes close to Dr. Sax in style or content. I can’t tell you how informative Dr. Sax’s session was for me.  I hope I will have the oppor­tunity to listen to Dr. Sax again.”

Genie Newport, Director, Independent Schools of St. Louis


“I am usually pessimistic about learning anything useful at the workshops required by our school district.  It was a stroke of luck that I attended Dr. Sax’s session.  What was so rewarding in his presentation was that it helped me to understand why some things have worked well for me in the classroom while others have not.   I now see the behavior of my students in a new way.”

Jonathan Lind, Sudley Elementary School, Manassas, Virginia


“Dr. Sax gave a fabulous presentation to our parents last evening. Awesome.  This was the biggest crowd we’ve ever been able to attract for a speaker, and Dr. Sax graciously stayed well beyond his contracted time to accommodate all.  His insights, all thoroughly supported by research, were at times mind-blowing, and his sense of humor just added to a totally enjoyable night.” 

Linda D’Orlando, West Windsor – Plainsboro Public Schools, New Jersey


 “I was profoundly impressed by the information which Dr. Sax shared with us.  I also appreci­ated his style of presentation:  a logical sequence of ideas supported by compelling evidence. 

An excellent presentation.”

Don Comeau, Clear Water Academy, Calgary, Alberta



My three books Why Gender Matters, Boys Adrift, and Girls on the Edge:


Why Gender Matters “. . . is a lucid guide to male and female brain differences.” 

       New York Times


Boys Adrift “. . . is powerfully and persuasively presented. . . Excellent and informative references and information are provided.” 

       Journal of the American Medical Association


Boys Adrift:  A must-read for any parent of boys.  This is real science, and Dr. Sax thoroughly uncovers the important health issues that parents of boys need to be tuned into.” 

       Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of “The Dr. Oz Show”


Boys Adrift:  I know someone who knows what to do [about bullying and cyberbullying].  His name is Dr. Leonard Sax. . . [Boys Adrift] is informative and eminently readable. . .I strongly recommend that you read Boys Adrift.

       Fr. Robert Barron, from his video at “Word on Fire”, also a similar comment in his essay on the movie “Bully” at


Girls on the Edge:  “This is essential reading for parents and teachers, and one of the most thought-provoking books on teen development available.”    

Library Journal


“Packed with concrete suggestions for parents, Girls on the Edge is a treasure trove of rarely-seen research on girls. Dr. Sax’s commitment to girls’ success comes through on every page.” 

Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and The Curse of the Good Girl


Girls on the Edge:  “The best book about the current state of girls and young women. . . offers astonishing and troubling new insight . . .

The Atlantic


 “Until recently, there have been two groups of people: those who argue sex differences are innate and should be embraced and those who insist that they are learned and should be eliminated. Sax is one of the few in the middle -- convinced that boys and girls are innately different and that we must change the environment so differences don't become limitations."

       TIME Magazine