Mystery Solved? Are We Causing ADHD?
If so, what does that mean for our kids?
We know that children’s brains are plastic and rapidly developing from birth, shaped by the experiences they have. We also know that our experiences dictate not only which neural pathways are formed and strengthened by frequent use, but also which ones end up being pruned because of disuse. The first ten years of a child’s life provides a window of opportunity for brain development that is unmatched in an older person. It is critical for us as parents to pay very close attention to the experiences we provide our developing children so that we can ensure they grow and develop to their greatest potential.
We know about brain development in theory, but I am not sure the extent to which we understand the implications of our modern society on the brain development of our youngest generation. In Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World, Jeffrey Freed and Laurie Parsons focus mostly on how children with ADD can find success in education, but early on in the book they attempt to explain the cause of the disorder.
We need to lay the foundations for learning in early childhood by stimulating children’s brains with a variety of activities that exercise the visual, auditory, and kinesthetic parts of the brain. This isn’t to say we should be enrolling babies in preschool prep courses, but rather that we should read to our children, talk in “parentese” to them, and sing nursery rhymes. (p. 36).
Outdoor play, experiences that allow full visual range, activities that let the brain and body learn how to move in space, balancing, the chat that accompanies free play, conversations with adults about things that matter, participation with adults in chores, contributions (however minor) to the family – are all activities and experiences that lead to a well developed brain.
How are our kids spending their time?
Think about what the majority of the children in our society are doing on any given day. Freed and Parsons turn to experts for further explanation, beginning with a quote from Driven to Distraction by Dr. Hallowell and Ratey.
If you want the short course on why children think differently today, sit down with your child and spend a few minutes watching Sesame Street or MTV. See how you respond to the dizzyingly rapid-fire images on … commercials. Watch how your child sits, transfixed, processing an almost impossible amount of visual information. If that weren’t enough, technology has brought us even more ADD-like options for TV viewing: picture-within-a-picture and split-frame features, and the omnipresent remote control. … “Remote control switch in hand, we switch from station to station taking in dozens of programs at once, catching a line here, an image there, getting the gist of the show in a millisecond, getting bored with it in a full second, blipping on to the next show, the next bit of stimulation, the next quick pick." This visual chaos can’t help but change the way we think. (pp. 38-9).
Next, Freed and Parsons turn to a psychiatrist, a movie critic and a historian. All three experts are from varying professional fields, but all three have very similar views on the same issue.
Psychiatrist Matthew Dumont: “I would like to suggest that the constant shifting of visual frames in television shows is related to the hyperkinetic syndrome…There are incessant changes of camera and focus, so that the viewer’s reference point shifts every few seconds. This technique literally programs a short attention span.” (p. 39).
Movie critic Michael Medved: “warns that the attenuated attention spans that TV viewing produces are even more harmful than the content of television programs today.” (p. 39).
Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb: “The combination of sound bites and striking visual effects shapes the young mind, incapacitating it for the longer, slower, less febrile tempo of the book.” (p. 39).
Freed and Parsons bring it back around to conclude, “Our children are exposed to an overwhelming array of cable channels, computer programs, video games, and web sites. It’s no wonder they think differently.” (p. 40).
It has concerned me for several years to see the direction the educational world is heading – towards more and more technology to teach children. I remained behind in this mad rush towards applications and technology as teacher because I already believed that children did not get enough personal interaction and conversation – and certainly not enough interaction with books. While I understand that technology is here to stay and the trend towards technology as teacher is not going to lessen in the coming years, I remain squarely in the camp of old-fashioned upbringing for our kids. I believe in providing rich experiences for children where they can interact in natural settings, converse, and learn to interact well with others. I believe in the well-rounded child in brain, body, and spirit.
As Parents, We Have a Choice
Freed and Parsons put it so well when they write, “We may think we’re stimulating our children to be geniuses, but in fact we’re overstimulating them to exhibit characteristics of ADD while robbing them of their childhoods … When we allow our children to be bombarded continually with media, technology, and other image frenzied activities, how ironic it is then that we should criticize them for not being able to focus intently on a single activity in school!” (p. 46-7).
There is so much available for us to read as we educate ourselves on the best ways to bring up children who are healthy in mind and body. Isn't it amazing how much impact we can have on our children? What is required of us is the courage to make sure it happens for them.