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Risk Management: Tips for Stimulation-Seeking Kids

If your child is prone to outlandish and dangerous antics, you don’t have to wait until they break a bone before you reach them.

You may not be surprised to learn that one criterion for ADHD is a quest for high stimulation. I remember a car trip I took when I was 18. I traveled from Massachusetts to Utah on my way to college. I decided to pop down to the Grand Canyon before heading up to Provo. Snow covered the ground in patches. I had just bought some cool “real” moccasins with a shiny plastic sole at a gift shop — on a whim, of course — and headed out to the viewing area to enjoy the majestic vista.

I wasn’t satisfied with the view from within the roped-off area, so I ducked under the rope and headed toward the cliff. My feet slipped and slid as I approached the edge, so I ended up getting down on my belly and wiggling myself toward the edge. I looked over the edge to the distant ground below. I carefully wiggled my way back to the roped-off area.

My life has been filled with near-death experiences like this. There was another time when I was speeding through snow-covered mountain passes in Wyoming when I turned the bend and discovered an 18-wheeler jackknifed across the highway with other cars strewn here. If I had hit the brakes at that moment, I would have skidded to my death, so I made a calculated decision and drove through the mess at 70 mph. Then I laughed.

It is a wonder that I survived my 20s. Unfortunately, high-risk behaviors don’t have to be rushing through traffic like it’s the Indy500, or leaping out of planes for kicks. It can involve online gambling, local betting, auction bidding, shopping sprees, risky sex, online arguing, PTA meetings, and anything that brings a sense of danger with adrenaline. PTA meetings? Yes, some people thrive on conflict, even if it burns bridges socially.

What is it that makes this pattern of behavior such a siren call for people with ADHD? Is your kid destined to end up in the hospital because they rode off the roof of your house on a BMX bike attached to a rope that swung out to a backyard trampoline? Not if you’re aware of the problem and take precautions. High-risk behavior has roots in the ADHD mind. With the risk comes clarity, drive, and an ability to accomplish something. It can be dangerously attractive, especially if the idea leads to a rush of adrenaline and endorphins.

If your child is prone to outlandish and dangerous antics, you don’t have to wait until they break a bone before you reach them.

  1. Search the news for examples of risky behavior to teach your child to think twice. It might be wise to keep a file of these types of stories for future reference. The point is to teach them there are consequences for high-risk behavior.
  2. They might think that they’re invincible. Let them know that you are grateful they are OK, but that their behavior alarmed you. Explain why. Discuss possible things that could go wrong. You want to help them think it through, not nag them into shutting you out.
  3. Sports and hobbies provide a break from the usual grind while also giving your child a positive outlet for her intense focus. However, if your child truly craves the clarity that hyperfocus brings when it’s coupled with adrenaline, you may need to enroll her in extreme sports, which are supervised in a controlled environment. By teaching your child to seek constructive behavior while she is young, you can help her avoid high-risk behavior as an adult.