ADHD, Lack of Physical Activity, and “Magic Pills”

I recently read a blog that I’m sure you will find just as interesting as I did.  The blog links the rise of ADHD to the decrease in physical activity in children today.  The blog “Increase in ADHD Runs Parallel With Decrease in Physical Activity” makes a fairly convincing argument that the rise in ADHD diagnoses could be in part due to the fact that children today just aren’t getting enough physical activity.

Why is there such an increase in childhood ADHD over the last two decades?

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 11% of children are diagnosed with ADHD by the time they finish high school, a drastic increase since 1990.  I completely agree with many critics out there that suggest that the number of children diagnosed with ADHD is significantly higher than it should be, due in part to the fact that screening for ADHD is largely subjective.  Most screening tools ask parents and teachers a variety of questions in order to assess for ADHD.  However, if you’re a frustrated parent or a teacher who just wants this hyper kid to sit down and shut up, it’s not too easy to sway the data for these surveys.  My wife was a teacher for 7 years.  She knows from personal experience that a hyperactive kid can cause MAJOR disruptions in class.  Teachers are super stressed and getting a hyperactive kid medicated might really change their classroom dynamic for the better.  While I hope this is not common, I can see where a teacher-completed ADHD assessment scale might be swayed ever so slightly to promote medication and those zombie-like tendencies we have all heard horror stories about.

Temptations of the “Magic Pill”

Furthermore, many parents have been brainwashed to think that ADHD medication is the “magic pill” they have been looking for.  Let’s face it…it’s WORK to raise any child in this generation, much less a kid with hyperactive and impulsive tendencies!  Just imagine you’re a stressed out, frustrated parent of an impulsive, bouncing off the walls overactive 8 year old boy.  Wouldn’t you want a “magic pill” that could solve all of your parenting problems without raising so much as a finger?  And your child simply has to raise a cold glass of water and pop that little blue “magic bullet” that will make him listen like an angel and sit at his desk class like a plastic mannequin that will please even the most rigid teacher on the planet!   The little pill that will make their child magically behave and be a model child, the type of child that other parents will be envious over.  Guess what?  ADHD medication is NOT the “magic pill.”  I know this from working with children for over a decade.  When parents medicate their children, instead of finding a magically wonderful child, they often complain that their child is “Just not himself” or a “zombie” or even find that it works for part of the day (usually the part of the day that their child is in school) and then the child becomes the Tasmanian Devil from Looney Toons for the entire evening!

While there isn’t any clear resActive Childrenearch out there linking the rise in ADHD diagnosis to the lack of physical activity in children, this blog on the Huffington Post sure made me stop and think.  The rise in ADHD diagnoses certainly runs parallel to the decline in physical activity in children.  Kids naturally have lots of physical energy they need to expel.  How many times have you watched your children playing and thought, “Gee, I wish I had that much energy.”  So think about it—children are locked up in school for increasingly longer and longer hours each year.  Add to that the fact that schools are slashing their Physical Education classes, extracurricular sports teams, and recess time.  (Oddly enough, studies demonstrate that when kids are engaged in regular physical activity they show less anxiety, increased focus, and better academic performance—sound like ADHD symptoms to you?)  It makes perfect sense that children are hyperactive.  Of course they are!  They have tons of pent up energy and ZERO ways of constructively utilizing that energy on a daily basis.  And to top it off, I bet I can guess what your kids do after they get home from school.  Chances are, they plug in to the TV and begin a marathon of video games that is only interrupted by chips or a candy bar and a fast dash to the bathroom when they can’t hold it any longer.  Starting to see why ADHD is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s lethargic society?

According to the CDC less than 30% of adolescents meet the guidelines for daily physical activity.  Parents can list mountains of reasons to willingly keep their kids indoors—neighborhood safety, urban density, the lure of electronic devises—but the fact of the matter is that it’s healthy for kids to get outside and burn off some of their pent up energy!

How to Help Hyper Kids WITHOUT “Magic Pills”

I am a huge advocate to not medicate your child for ADHD unless you have already tried other avenues.  Don’t get me wrong, though.  There are children that legitimately need ADHD medication and can benefit greatly from taking it regularly.  But a better place to start is with encouraging physical activity, reducing video game time, and using some Positive Parenting skills to see what a difference you can make without relying on the “magic pill” first.  Start by taking your kids to the park, playing catch in the yard, signing them up for a gymnastics class—all of these will help your hyperactive child burn off some of their pent up energy and will make a drastic improvement in the way things go for the rest of the evening.  At Behavior Management Coaching, we teach many Positive Parenting skills that can help frustrated parents of hyper and impulsive kids who just aren’t quite ready for the medication path.  I have personally seen amazing results for ADHD children and their frustrated parents from these Positive Parenting skills.  Using these skills and making several other small changes can make a world of difference in your child’s hyper and impulsive behaviors without going down the “magic pill” path that often leads to even more side effects and other challenges for your already struggling child to overcome.

Behavior Management Coaching can help parents deal with the stress of parenting an ADHD child by teaching concise, proven Positive Parenting Skills to reduce childhood behavioral problems, improve the child’s self-esteem, and drastically reduce parent’s stress levels in the process.  Talk to us today.