In Defense of Spirited Boys


    My boys are fidgety, forgetful, goofy, distracted, impulsive and many more adjectives that some may judge as problematic. But aren't these also the traits of boys just being boys?



    I recently had several conversations with other mothers who have boys, conversations that swirled around boy behavior and the swift suggestions of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and medication. We talked about how our boys behave, and wondered what medication would help and what it would take away. 

    My boys are fidgety, forgetful, goofy; distracted, bossy, competitive; daydreaming, messy, impulsive. Sometimes these qualities don't jive with the average American elementary school. 

    If I get an email home from school detailing an unwelcome incident (most recently, my youngest added an extra "t" to the word "but" in a school library book about sharks), I wonder if there is truly a behavioral issue, or if my boys are just being boys.

    Because I feel like the standards in many elementary schools are set by the behavior of girls – girls who, for the most part, can sit still and focus with a sharper acuity. Girls who aren't wrestling with each other or playing games like "Trip the Leg" and "'Slide the Person" and "Epic Failure." (The last game consists solely of falling down.)

    Behavioral studies have demonstrated that there is an increase in activity of elementary school boys, and that girls don't express their energy in the same unrestrained manner. (Interestingly, if you Google "boy behavior" the first prompt is "boy behavior problems." When Googling "girl behavior," the first prompt is "girl behavior chart" followed by "girl behavior when in love.")

    Recently, there has been more media focus on overdiagnosis of ADHD, including this New Republic article and another in the Wall Street Journal. Boys are diagnosed four to five times more than girls, according to various medical websites. While medication does help children with severe ADHD, it is not the panacea for every distracted child. And I have to wonder if the traits associated with ADHD — restlessness, lack of focus, impulsivity — are more likely the same species of that unrestrained energy in boys.  In school, where there are shorter recesses, less gym time and strict limits on physical play, that energy needs a place to go. For my kids this week, it went into a book about sharks and an unsupervised mad dash to the school playground after dismissal.

    Our guys – especially our youngest – are crackling with energy. I imagine their blood fizzes like soda and their synapses snap like firecrackers with microscopic explosions of consequence-ignorant information. They cartwheel in the dining room and spin in circles around the house. They run the hallway and slide into the kitchen. They wrestle and flip on the beds and have light saber duels and Nerf gun battles. They sing and shout and whoop and whistle. They make plenty of jokes about farts and poop. 

    So yes, our boys are fidgety, forgetful, goofy; distracted, bossy, competitive; daydreaming, messy, impulsive. But, as I have read in Wendy Mogel's Blessing of the Skinned Knee, in their least appealing traits (the yetzer hara) are the seeds of their best traits.

    Distracted, daydreaming? Also creative and inventive. Bossy, competitive? They show leadership and determination. Goofy, impulsive? Joyful, funny.

    Our boys are all of these things and more. To me, that's something to be celebrated, not medicated.