Self Esteem

It’s a Man’s World — But Not If You Have ADHD

Boys with ADHD would do well to learn a few lessons from their female counterparts, says this ADHD expert. Here, he offers tips on how to help your boy work hard and do what it takes to succeed.

A little boy makes a silly face — it's always comedy hour around him.
A little boy makes a silly face — it's always comedy hour around him.

As a nation, we should be proud of our young women. They’re the granddaughters of feminism — whether they realize it or not — and they’ve struggled for equality.

Women now account for 60 percent of U.S. college graduations. They enter college at a higher rate than men and drop out less often. Girls get higher grades than boys in middle and high school, and they report liking school more. Women and girls haven’t broken through every glass ceiling, but they’re on their way.

Boys are raised to operate under the old rules of male entitlement, which isn’t turning out so well. In my office, this is apparent among the ADHD crowd. When I compare male and female clients of equal ability or disability, girls with ADHD outperform boys hands down. Girls seem empowered by an idea we’ve ingrained in our daughters — work harder and better, or you’ll be trampled by men on the road of life.

Boys get a very different message from society. It’s confusing and hard for them to decipher, because American society isn’t clear about what it means to be male. What boys seem to hear is, “You’re a guy. You’ve got it made.” That’s a dangerous message for anyone to hear, and for boys with attention deficit, who are neurologically prone to cutting corners, it’s worse.

The secret to raising stronger boys is to observe what has worked in raising a generation of successful, self-reliant girls, and to adopt that model in raising our sons. Teach boys to work hard for what they get in life, and to expect nothing to be handed to them that they have not earned. When your son has ADHD, double down on that formula.

[Download: Your Free Guide to Debunking Annoying ADHD Myths]

Here are a few guidelines that I’ve developed over 24 years of clinical practice. Parents can apply them at any point in their son’s life, but the sooner you start, the better the outcome will be.

1. Master beneficence. Give in a way that helps your son become more successful and independent. Too many families give sons too much stuff (toys, phones, money, cars, video games, trips, tuition) with no clear expectations in return. Then they wonder why their sons grow up feeling and acting entitled.

Parents of kids with ADHD are prone to indulgence, perhaps because they feel sorry for their child, want to give him an edge over non-ADHD kids, or think high expectations are more trouble for kids with attention deficit than they’re worth. Instead, expect your son to live as you do, by the sweat of his brow, so he learns the value of money, and the effort it takes to get what you want in life.

2. Don’t enable him. The opposite of beneficence is enabling, and it comes in all shapes and sizes. You may be enabling your son by doing too much for him, by not setting high expectations, or by failing to reward and punish behavior. Enabling can mean overlooking dishonesty or poor treatment of others, paying off bad debt, or letting ADHD become an excuse rather than an explanation. Accountability is important in raising all kids. It is the core element of parenting kids with ADHD.

[The Danger of “Boys Will Be Boys”]

3. Treat video games as dessert. I was an early gamer, back when a couple hours of play took a roll of quarters. In the 35 years since, I’ve come to see the cost of free, unlimited video play, and it’s high. ADHD boys love this technology because video games are all give and no take. Parents are enamored of games because many use them as an electronic babysitter.

Unfortunately, most games give players the cognitive and emotional sensation of having accomplished something great without having accomplished anything. This plays straight into the neurology of ADHD boys, who like exciting, easy, cost-free solutions, leading to overplaying and distraction from (or avoidance of) life tasks. From the first day your son holds a controller in his hand, teach him that gaming is like dessert — a great way to round out a healthy meal — and regulate and limit game play as you would ration a chocolate cake.

4. Sign him up for family therapy. When it comes to treatment, it’s best to engage boys and young men in a family-based therapy — with the client and, preferably, both parents. I’ve seen exceptions, but most ADHD boys are doers, not talkers, so one-on-one talk therapy isn’t their bag.

If your boy wants to have individual sessions, ask him to hold that thought until his life is reorganized in family therapy. This works well for reluctant or non-talkative boys because it requires little of them. For the young adult crowd, “family” may mean dating partners or close friends, who should also be included to maximize success. How much do I believe in this approach? I don’t accept any young men in individual therapy for ADHD until after the family phase is complete.

[About a Boy (and Teen) with ADHD]

Wes Crenshaw, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

3 Comments & Reviews

  1. Re: It’s a man’s world, but not if you have ADHD article.

    I had to look at the URL again, I thought I was on some political site, not additude.

    It sounds like PHD Wes, doesn’t have boys, kids with adhd or possibly any kids at all, just a piece of paper (degree) that confirms he/she memorized someone else’s opinions.

    The strong feministic and anti male rhetoric suggests maybe Wes is also a woman, and that you can insert ones politically induced liberal nonsense anywhere.

    Apparently Wes missed the memo regarding the skewed context of the inequality and glass ceiling conversations.

    And how about these idiotic gems…

    “Boys are raised on rules of male entitlement” – What? How can anyone possibly make such a comment?
    “Girls outperform boys hands down” – Girls typically outperform boys in that age group, with or without ADHD.
    “Boys hear, you’re a guy, you’ve got it made” – What? Where did you come up with this stuff?
    Boys with ADHD, are “neurologically prone to cut corners” – Really? that’s what you think they’re doing?
    “Too many families give sons too much stuff” – What? – I’m sure you’ve got proof to back that comment up too right?


  2. I think some of the stats and situations described in your article may not be directly related to ADHD.

    For example since the 1970’s I can remember a push to get girls interested in math and science. I remember hearing about bring your daughter to work day, the class was all boys that day.

    Today we see advertisements informing women about special programs and financial aid to go to college.

    These programs along with many others not mentioned could have had a larger impact on junior high, high school and college graduation statistics than how boys with or without ADHD are raised.

    What would the results be in 45 years if you kept all the programs but targeted boys instead? or what if we simply targeted all children equally?

    On the other hand what do I know? I am a 53 year old male who was diagnosed with ADHD little over 2 years ago. The teachers always said I was smart and well behaved, just lazy or an underachiever. I was embarrassed many times in front of the class by teachers for forgetting things, losing things, slow reading, bad spelling, the list goes on and on. My parents, family, friends, coworkers and bosses all thought it was a willingness issue. I have had trouble in ALL areas of my life due to ADHD symptoms. Always stressed out even when things were going well. My symptoms are not different from the symptoms and situations described by women who went into adulthood without an ADHD diagnosis. This is what makes me question gender specific ADHD symptoms.

    As a kid I was always in trouble for bad grades. I did not get the “toys” mentioned above because I “chose” not to do well in school.

    I was not enabled because of my ADHD they thought I was lazy and didn’t want to achieve. I was held accountable for things that were out of my control. The big lie I was telling was that I was lazy and one day I would put my mind to it and become successful. It has not happened yet.

    Video games were still a new thing when I was in high school. With my grades good luck trying to get an Atari from my parents.

    Since my diagnosis I have completed two associates degrees. I started community college after I failed out of a university. I had been going off and on failing out and starting over for a little longer than you have been in practice Dr Crenshaw.

    I am attending the university I failed out of right out of high school now. I am not getting special treatment because I am a man/boy with ADHD in school. Unless that special treatment is having to convince the Disability Resource Center (DRC), each teacher and graduate assistant that ADHD is more than not being able to sit still, each semester. That is something the other students don’t get to do. So maybe I am getting special treatment.

    Dr Crenshaw I think you should rethink some of the things you are saying in the article above. ALL video games require problem solving skills, critical thinking, eye hand coordination, FOCUS, along with many other skills. If you were to take an hour or two play through a tutorial of a current video game and write down the skills needed to play the game. You would find that list of skills closely resembles the lists of skills needed to be a successful student these days. Kids don’t just play the video game now, they use youtube or websites to find videos and blogs that help them play the game(research). The use online networks to find people who have similar/complimentary skills to play with (networking). Its a lot different from going to the arcade with 40 quarters. Gamers develop useful skills that can help in school and work. The connection is not made because we don’t pay close enough attention to what they are actually doing.

    Imagine telling kids with ADHD that the video game they just spent three months beating required them to use skills that could make them a better student. Then explain the skills used and how they apply to school.

    I think that would be a better exchange with a child that has ADHD than using a video game as a reward for a behavior/skill they are having trouble mastering. For all we know that behavior/skill is used/mastered while playing the video game.

    It makes sense to me, but I might just be cutting corners. I have ADHD and I am a full grown boy who is neurologically prone to cutting corners.

    Frank Romero

  3. What a political croc. Now we should look at how girls are raised to raise “better” boys? And I have never known any other boy or man who felt like they had it made because they were men…never.

Leave a Reply