Signs of ADHD and what to do now, screen time stubbornness, and looming anxiety.
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“People who grew up in an anxiety producing household have a higher Anxiety Set Point than average people.”
"My 7-year-old has been irritable, impulsive, and having a hard time listening to anyone of authority. His teachers and I have already discussed his distractedness in class, and we haven’t even been back in school very long. Should I be concerned that he is suffering from ADD/ADHD? Or could this be a result of returning back to the classroom after a long year of online school? "
I understand your concern about your child’s behavior but I would hesitate assigning a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD at this point. I was talking to an elementary school teacher about the return to in-person teaching this fall, and she described her students as being “feral.” This may have been an overstatement but it speaks to a problem that exists across the board with students returning to the classroom after more than a year of re- mote learning. I don’t know what your son’s experience was during the past year, but for many it was isolating and chaotic. He may be anxious, not only about Covid, but about returning to the complex web of expectations presented by his classmates and teacher.
Try to not give him false reassurances like “Everything will be fine.” Instead, acknowledge the problem. You could say, “I know it’s hard remembering how to be- have.” Perhaps the teacher could give him some time off every once in a while, to read a book or draw a picture, to give him a break from being a “student.” The pandemic lockdown was disconcerting for all of us, but especially for children. While ADD/ADHD is always a possible diagnosis, it’s more likely your son is having difficulty adjusting to the constraints of in-classroom learning.
"My 10-year-old is obsessed with screen time. iPad, computer, TV, even using my smartphone. I’d like to say my wife and I are diligent about allocating short periods of screen time, but when it’s time to step away, our son throws an absolute fit, different from what I’ve ever seen from him. How else can I encourage him to have fun without technology and stop acting like it’s the end of the world? Should I take him to see someone? "
We’ve all become more reliant on technology or screen time as you described it and all of us need to monitor our use and be alert for signs of addiction. Your son’s reaction to being denied ac- cess to his screen seems to indicate that his dependence is edging in that direction. Learning how to balance screen time with other activities is a life skill we all need to develop. Our screens are highly addictive by their very nature. They tend to put us into a “zone” much like alcohol or drugs or repetitive behavior. Action games and silly videos are good examples of this along with social media. Screen time as a substitute for other activities is not conducive to healthy growth and development.
To begin with, you might try to regulate content rather than solely time. Reading stories or draw- ing pictures or accessing educational videos is a healthier use of our screens than mindless games. Our screens have become our go- to method of entertainment. I saw a painting recently of a Thanks- giving celebration with the entire family gathered in the living room of Grandma’s house, each on their screen of choice. Grandma was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with the roasted turkey on a tray, waiting for someone to look up and notice her. The painting spoke eloquently about a situation that has become commonplace.
Children with higher screen times appear to show less curiosity, self-control. and emotional stability. Clearly continue to monitor your child’s screen time and content. Pay attention to your own screen time as you are modeling behavior that your children will mirror. Addiction to games, YouTube, Facebook, Insta- gram is very real and carries with it all the isolation and withdrawal from the world common to the problem.
"I constantly have anxiety that I'll receive a phone call that my children or parents or someone I love has been in a terrible accident. I know I can’t live in fear, but it looms in the back of my mind often. What can I do to ease this stress?"
While your anxiety about a terrible accident involving your loved ones is particular to you, anxiety in general is now more prevalent than depression. While anxiety in our society has been heightened by the pandemic, it is also caused by our lack of feelings of safety and security. Anxiety exists on a societal as well as a personal level. People who grew up in an anxiety producing household have a higher Anxiety Set Point than average people. They emerge from their childhoods with a constant level of anxiety, just beneath the surface, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. When you are always on alert, waiting for something horrible to happen, you wear yourself out, you shorten your life and you’re not fully present in the here and now.
But what do we do about ever-present anxiety? We try to avoid catastrophizing, going to the worst possible thing that could happen. I’ve heard people justifying that stance saying, “then you will never be disappointed or caught off guard.” It’s a dysfunctional defense mechanism, always expecting the worst, defending against disappointment and victimization. So long as we can say, “I was expecting that. I knew that would happen.”, we feel more in control. We have to substitute new thoughts when we banish old ones. Positive, optimistic thoughts of how we can expect good things to happen and how we deserve good things in our lives.
-Romona Scholder, M.A., RNCS, Psychotherapist