I saw yet another article today, this time in The Independent, chalking up the rise in ADHD to bad parenting, teachers with no discipline, and an all-around decline in societal discipline. After a day at the zoo with my four-year-old, I can tell you one thing for certain: it’s not bad parenting.
A little disclaimer: My 4-year-old has not been diagnosed with ADHD. As much as my husband and I would like to, we do not give him ADHD medication. I have, however, suspected ADHD since very early on, based on his behaviors (and not just the bad ones).
The inability to focus and pay attention is not just bad behavior. Picasso (the aforementioned four-year-old) was begging me to go to the Stingray exhibit. We got there and I held Cassatt (who is now two) to pet the Stingrays, while Picasso ran in circles shrieking, and couldn’t get close enough to the exhibit to enjoy it. Parents of “typical” children don’t have to work to get their children to focus on something they want to do.
Likewise, the inability to self-regulate is not just a behavior problem, and is not a result of bad parenting. Picasso was (again) squealing and jumping up and down at the Sea Lion exhibit, while other parents and children stared at him (I am still so embarrassed). These other children were not so much self-regulating when they quietly watched the sea lions; they did not have the impulse to scream and jump in the first place.
As an ADHD adult, I can focus and pay attention when I need to. But one thing I have learned over the years: it takes more energy. It is more work for me to focus because I have to keep redirecting my brain to the task at hand. This depletes my energy stores, and I eventually reach the breaking point where I can no longer focus. Good or bad parenting cannot change this, it is a fact of my biology.
I have heard that ADHD is both over- and under-diagnosed. Dismissing ADHD as “bad parenting”, however, ignores the fact that ADHD is a very real problem, and behavior changes are not enough to level the playing field.