In Leonard Sax’s book, Boys Adrift
, he discusses five factors that cause a large portion of today’s boys to be unmotivated. They actually relish in their lack of achievement as though it were a metal of honor. This is depicted very well in the Matthew McConaughey film “Failure to Launch.” In it, McConaughey’s character doesn’t want to leave his parents’ home. He’s content to be a bachelor, mooching off his parents for the rest of his life. This behavior can be seen in boys who have no desire to excel at anything except for what pleases them. Certainly laziness is a factor for all teen boys but as they grow up, they should want to grow out of their parents’ home, be on their own, and start a family. What causes this lack of direction? Sax believes that ADHD medications play a part.
I have written about two of the factors (schools and video games)
discussed in Sax’s book and will be adding the others soon. I have done my best to capture Sax’s points here on ADHD medications and the philosophy he and I prescribe to. It is not my intention to cause alarm here but to simply inform. Your son may be doing great with meds and you wouldn’t change a thing. That’s great! On the other hand, if your son is taking meds, you should be fully informed about potential side-effects; particularly if you aren’t totally pleased with his progress.
Before making any changes to your sons meds, or if you have concerns, consult with your pediatrician, see a counselor, or even buy Sax’s book and read it for yourself. His data and experience in counseling boys is quite compelling. There’s also a great at-home program with proven results. You may actually qualify to get it for free. Finally, you can listen to a podcast on ADHD I did with a Hendersonville pediatrician, Dr Steve Johnson.
Boys are designed to be playful, rambunctious, and sometimes outright raunchy. These characteristics don’t always fit into a school setting and, after many bouts with school personnel, bewildered parents go to their doctor to discuss an ADHD diagnosis. The parents may also be frustrated about his behavior at home. The boy begins a behavior modification regimen along with meds that will make it easier to control himself. The boy’s teachers are relieved and the parents are pleased. He is doing much better in school and this can be attributed directly to the doctor’s visit. But what if there’s more to this story? What if years later the boy isn’t motivated to succeed?
ADHD has always been with us. In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
you see an early example of what we would later term Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, but is it a disorder or is it simply boys being boys? Nobody would argue in Sawyer’s time that he was doing anything out of the ordinary, but in a 21st century school, he certainly would not make it.
Some boys can sit for hours at a time and do their work as requested by the teacher. Others however can barely sit still for five minutes. Most classes are not designed for boys who absolutely must be active. However, it is a fact that if a hyperactive boy is to graduate in this day and age, he must receive some form of help or struggle his entire academic career and within his social circles. Medication is one of these aids.
America is the most prescribed country in the world. What has led to this? First, we have made a tremendous shift from personal responsibility to third-party explanations. If something is wrong with a person, he/she is quick to blame his lousy parents, a sibling, a friend, drugs, alcohol, almost anything besides himself. So, since he is a victim of outside circumstances, he must get outside help. Little if any thought is given to a person having or developing the strength to handle his own behavior.
In 2006, children in the US were at least three times more likely to be taking psychiatric meds as compared with children in any European country. And our kids aren’t just taking one pill. One-third of American children who are taking psychotropic meds are actually taking two to four others. A boy who is on Adderall for his ADHD may also be on Clonidine to control his outbursts, and Prozac to stabilize his moods. The result? A boy who conforms but who is not developing inner strength to cope and control. These character traits should be developed in the home and at school with firm teachers and practical parents.
Three decades ago if a boy cursed his parents or spit at his teacher, people would say that he was a disobedient brat who was long due a spanking. Today, this behavior from a similar boy might prompt a trip to the pediatrician or child psychologist. It’s no longer the fault of the parents or the boy who needs to learn self-control, but instead he is an unfortunate soul with misfiring chemicals. What is wrong with him is the wrong question. Rather, you must ask what are you as the parent going to do to change his behavior? Most can learn to control themselves even without the assistance of meds.
Another factor that has to do with the rise in prescriptions for ADHD meds is the “inappropriate acceleration” of the early elementary school curriculum. Read more here about this issue.
So, will you have a 25 year old living in your basement spending all his paycheck on video games? Maybe. Professor William Carlezon and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School have reported that juvenile laboratory animals display a loss of drive when they mature after being given stimulant medications such as those used to treat boys with ADHD. These medications appear to impair lab animals by damaging the nucleus accumbens of the developing brain. Independent groups of researchers at the University of Michigan, the Medical University of South Carolina, the University of Pittsburgh, Brown University, as well as in Sweden, Italy, and the Netherlands, all have arrived at similar conclusions. What’s the point? Your boy may feel hungry. He just won’t do anything about it.
Thankfully, these adverse affects can be overcome by engaging your son in activities that interest him and by ensuring that he does have a degree of motivation to do something. Otherwise, there may be cause for concern. I have witnessed boys who are better for taking medication, but I have also seen boys who could benefit from other forms of interventions. Take note of my earlier suggestions including the ad links below. I hope my thoughts here are insightful and will help you on your journey as a parent.