How To Manage Our Hard-Wired Youth
A friend of mine who is a high school English teacher in our local schools has been perplexed by the behavior of some of her current students. She said, "Help me understand why a third of my students can't sit still in their desks? They wiggle, they squirm, they tap their pencils and their feet and are constantly in motion." She is experiencing a dose of today's "hard-wired" youngsters.
Although some of this student behavior is developmentally appropriate, our society has rapidly experienced a metamorphosis that fosters and perpetuates the kind of fidgety behavior that my teacher friend is observing. Our fast-paced, complex culture places stress and strain on all of us. Many times our children feel overwhelmed by the "juggling act" that is performed in trying to keep their lives in balance.
What are some of the factors that create an environment of overstimulation and hyperactivity among our young people? Some clinicians in the field of behavioral health suggest that Attention Deficit Disorder accounts for most of our restlessness in children. However, many of our hyperactive students do not meet the criteria for ADHD. I believe that children are suffering from agitation, restlessness and hyperactivity due to other situational factors.
What is it about our culture that contributes to the restlessness experienced by our youth?
Violent lightening fast-paced movies and videos.
I believe that students who are consistently immersed in watching movies and videos filled with acts of violence are much more susceptible to restless agitation. Many children are unable to detach themselves from the overstimulation of violent behavior in the media. As they absorb multiple acts of violent sociopathic behavior, they are unable to process and disengage from the material without it affecting their current behavior.
Excessive use of video games and computers.
Many children become obsessively connected to electronic gadgetry and it may have a direct link to the quality of their mood, level of concentration, and quality of sleep. Some children use the electronic media as a means for avoiding more meaningful activity such as socialization with age mates. Electronic stimulation may be referred to as the "companion symptom." Children can carry it around like a friend and the activity takes on a life of its own.
Loud, hard-wired music.
Have you ever pulled up next to a car that was blasting the radio playing heavy metal or rap music? Did it sound like they were having a peaceful experience? Children are not always aware of the affects that certain styles of music can have on the sympathetic nervous system. These children may complain of irritability, moodiness and agitation as a result of this exposure.
The problem of over-scheduling activity.
Many children are unable to find a balance between creative free time and structured activity. Although karate and dance lessons may be important, children need time to play creatively. This may include artistic activity, hiking, camping, cycling, playing board games or doing nothing. The excessive activity level of many students makes it difficult for them to complete school responsibilities, such as homework, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety. Parents may perpetuate the problem by insisting that their children "stay on the move" at all times. Excessive preoccupation with activity creates overstimulation. How many birthday parties does your child need to attend before you say, "enough is enough?"
Several years ago my wife and I toured the nation of Israel with her family. I recall being in the mountainous village of Safed that is home to an artist colony. I remember a young boy who was using an easel to draw some ancient ruins. He looked serene and content. I asked him if I could take his picture and he agreed. He smiled and I snapped the image. I think it was his innocence and creativity that sparked me to want that image. I mentioned the encounter with our tour guide and he replied by saying, "The entrepreneurs in America have ruined a whole generation of children with their electronic gadgetry." Although his point is overstated, his premise is accurate.
As parents, it is important to guide your children in setting reasonable limits regarding exposure to the media and activity. This can be accomplished by monitoring your children's level of electronic exposure and degree and quality of structured activity. Parents can help their children develop an awareness and appreciation for the connection between excessive media stimulation and over- involvement in activity and the symptoms of irritability, agitation, and hyperactivity that may develop.
James P. Krehbiel is an author, contributing writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist practicing in Scottsdale, Arizona. He can be reached through his website at krehbielcounseling.com.