Are We All Suffering From ADHD?
There is a diagnosable condition called ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), because of which some people may “have trouble focusing their attention on a single task or sitting still for long periods of time.” Based on this description, it sounds as if our whole nation is suffering from this on one level or another. So many of us have forgotten how to focus, how to think deeply, how to concentrate on a single subject for long periods of time.
What is ADHD?
I’m quite aware, of course, that more than 6 million American children have been diagnosed with ADHD. American doctors treat this is a biological disorder, normally prescribing pharmaceutical treatment. As noted in a 2015 article on Health.com, “research suggests that ADHD is largely a genetic disorder.”
Yet the same article noted, “some environmental factors may play a role as well.”
Among possible factors contributing to ADHD, the article listed things like pesticides; smoking and drinking in pregnancy; lead exposure; food additives; and genes.
Sugar, allegedly, does not play a significant role in ADHD (again, according to this article), nor do TV and video games. Still, it was acknowledged, “research has found that school- and college-age students who spent more time in front of a screen had more attention problems than those who did not.”
Is anyone surprised with this finding?
A 2012 article in Psychology Today noted that, “In the United States, at least 9 percent of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5 percent.”
Interestingly, doctors in France “view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes.”
These doctors, we are told, “prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress — not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.”
Perhaps there is more to the social context after all?
I’m not a medical doctor (my Ph.D. is in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures), and in no way am I challenging the consensus of American researchers. Nor am I critiquing how we treat ADHD or, God forbid, blaming parents if their kids have been diagnosed with ADHD.
But I am asking some broader questions about our culture as a whole, questions about our larger lack of focus. What a deeply distracted generation we are.
Forget about TV and video games for a moment. Digital connectivity rules most of our lives. We are in constant communication with others via cell phone or tablet or computer. We live in a flood of texts and emails and updates and notifications. We have an endless stream of friends. We are linked to an ever-growing list of contacts. We are connected to a vast array of networks.
All of these are calling for our attention virtually 24/7, and this is quite apart from the constant flood of the latest news.
In sharp contrast, think back to the days where, at most, you received something of importance once a day in the mail. (“Hey kids, Dad sent us a letter from his business trip to England!”) Think back to the days when you could curl up with a book and sit for hours, not pulled away by pings and flashes and other notifications. Think back to when it was easier to concentrate.
Would anyone argue with me if I said we are a highly distracted generation? That we are used to instant responses rather than thoughtful reflection? That we are more accustomed to sound bites than to in-depth discourse?
Amusing Ourselves to Death
In 1985, Neil Postman wrote the now-classic book Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. (Yes, he wrote that already in 1985.) In a special introduction written in honor of the book’s twentieth anniversary, Neil’s son Andrew referenced a professor who required her students to go on a 24-hour media fast. The students had to abstain from all electronic media, from TV to cell phones to internet. And if they broke the media fast for any reason, they had to start over.
Once they were done, they had to write a paper detailing their experiences. Titles varied from “The Worst Day of My Life” to “The Best Experience I Ever Had,” with one student writing, “I thought I was going to die.”
Invariably, Postman reports, the students “take time to do things they haven’t done in years. They actually walk down the street to visit their friend. They have extended conversations. One wrote, ‘I thought to do things I hadn’t thought to do ever.’ The experience changes them,” often in a lasting way.
Dealing With The Digital Addiction
A fast like this forces them to deal with their addictions (or, perhaps, reveals those addictions to them). It breaks the cycle of immediate gratification, and it challenges them to do something else — something productive, something enriching, even something outside of themselves.
Perhaps we should all try something like this? Perhaps we should try to break away from the tyranny of this digital age and reclaim our lives? (Traditional Jews practice this weekly in their Sabbath observance.)
I definitely enjoy being connected. I enjoy the instant response to my articles or videos, or the ability to livestream my radio show every day. I can thrive on the energy and activity. But this cannot be 24/7. The cost is much higher than the reward.
Let us do what we can to stop, to reflect, to meditate on divine truth, to have serious interaction with those we love, to say “No” to the distractions of the age, to focus our attention of things of lasting importance. It will do our souls good.