Is it ADHD or “Boys Being Boys”?
The dangers of dismissing ADHD behaviors as “boys being boys.”
Of course children will be children, and boys who have ADHD aren’t dropped here from Mars. They have the same behaviors, feelings and developmental traits as other humans.
Boyish behavior isn’t the issue; it is the frequency and intensity of the behavior. For example, if you take a shower every day that’s great because we value cleanliness. But if you take 20 showers a day, that probably interferes with your functioning. And if not getting to take your 20 showers makes you agitated and upset, no one would remark, “people will be people.”
In my experience, “boys will be boys” thinking is most prevalent among fathers who don’t want to “grieve” the loss of the perfect son they’d dreamed of and accept the reality of a true disorder. But denying the problem can lead to far greater grief down the road.
Many boys with ADHD are described with admiration by parents as being very active and curious. But (as frequently observed in therapy situations) if being active and curious means shifting rapidly from one unfinished game to another (I’ve seen as many as 20 in 30 minutes) this behavior does not allow for completion of any game nor for the mastery of critical social skills developed through play: taking turns, dealing with frustration, playing by the rules, following through, and experiencing satisfaction from a job well done.
Later on, these missing social skills result in friendless boys with poor self-images who are teased and ridiculed by others. It’s a snowball effect that never stops.
Denial has other lifelong consequences. In my practice I’ve worked with youngsters whose parents have to get up two hours before leaving in the morning in order to shepherd these kids through a sequence of events that most children can accomplish independently in 20 minutes. This isn’t just “boys being boys” dawdling. Because of their ADHD, these boys are not able to organize the “getting ready” process in a way that allows them to shift from one task to another in a smooth sequence.
Dismissing these ADHD behaviors as “boys being boys” denies these kids the help they need to become independent, responsible teens and adults. Providing ADHD kids with structure — and supporting a habit of following that structure — can help them develop self management skills that offset the impulse to veer off track. People with ADHD who never learn these skills are in for a very bumpy ride.