The number of children, mostly boys, diagnosed with ADD or ADHD is increasing every year. As an undergraduate psychology student at the University of Nebraska in the 1990s I vividly remember my professors talking about ADD and ADHD as disorders on the rise and how to recognize them.
But could it be that our pervasive diagnosis of children as hyperactive has much more to do with the structure of our education system than it does any genuine "flaw" in our children's behavior? What if the problem has much more to do with our efforts to force boys to develop in the same manner and pace as girls develop? What if we are artificially imposing conditions on boys that they are simply not developmentally prepared for yet?
In today's world we want to believe that the only differences between young males and young females show up in adolescence when the obvious physiological differences become most striking. But this ignores thousands of years of evolution and adaptaton to the different roles played by males and females across human history. Males have evolved singular attention spans appropriate for hunting food while females have evolved communication and multi-tasking skills superior to those exhibited by most males.
This does not go away just because our society wants it to. Our evolutionary history shapes the initial learning styles of boys and girls with each sex taking a different educational arc. Girls naturally develop the ability to sit quietly and learn tasks require fine motor skills faster. Boys develop physical skills earlier and need time to refine eye-hand coordination on such tasks as baseball, football, soccer, archery, and hunting. Boys start out doing these tasks very well which is why you typically find ten year old boys surpassing ten year old girls in these physical activities (as a living history re-enactor I've noticed this to be especially true with archery, throwing axes at targets, and sword fighting).
This means that school is easier at first for girls. After all, most girls enter kindergarten developmentally prepared to sit still for hours working on classroom tasks like reading, basic math, and hand crafts. These tasks are not overly different from home skills taught to young girls for millenia -- like cooking, spinning, weaving, and helping mom maintain the household. All of these require the ability to focus one's attention on detail and sit still for often hours on end.
These are not tasks the boy brain are ready for at the age of six. His learning style is much more physically intense. Asking a boy under the age of ten to sit still for an entire day and focus his attention on the teacher's lessons typically runs contrary to the wiring of his brain.
Because of this, I think a lot of boys find it difficult if not impossible to focus. Many are able to force themselves to "behave" in the classroom, but not all. These children become the "problem" children who get labelled as hyperactive.
But is it really hyperactive for a boy to behave as a boy?
Perhaps instead of labelling and then medicating boys we should try another approach: educating boys on a different track than girls from grades kindergarten through about fourth of fifth grade and working WITH their learning style instead of punishing boys for learning differently than girls. These golden first years of their educational experience is the time to teach them self control over their muscles and respect for those who are different from them. This is the time to teach them to appreciate the non-sexual ways that males and females are different.
Reading and math circurica can be adjusted for elementary school boys to work with their different learning styles as well. Spatial tasks teach mathmatics (my strong home economics training as a preschooler made math very easy for me right up through 8th grade thanks to the spatial tasks involved and my constant exposure to fractions). Compelling stories teach reading.
When we move education to play to each gender's in-born strengths, we improve education overall.
This is not to say that we should eliminate equality in education. But perhaps a more personalized approach (this means investing in more teachers, reducing class sizes, and eliminate teaching to the test!) will prove to be much more effective.
In the Nature-Nurture continuem, it is important to understand that Nurture takes TIME; in the earliest years of our development Nature will always dominate. It is therefore up to us to nurture in a life-affirming manner, accepting our young people as they are rather than punishing them for developing at a different rate than we desire.
Some of the biggest life lessons are learned before the age of ten. It is time to stop judging and especially stop medicating and embrace our children for the beautiful beings they are.
Laurel A. Rockefeller, author
The Great Succession Crisis
E-Book ISBN: 9781476243344
Print book ISBN: 978-1479144808
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