The Distracting Sensation That’s Sweeping the Nation: ADHD
November 11, 2011
Filed under Student Life
A lot of things are being said about our generation. We’re getting dumber. We’re getting lazier. We’re getting more violent. More often than not, most of that appears to just be superstition coming from over-protective parents. But one condition in particular is grabbing more attention among teenagers themselves: ADHD. In case you didn’t already know, ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is a psychological condition that causes an inability to pay attention or focus on one thing for an extended period of time. The term is often heard around our school. Kids who get distracted easily often claim, “Oh, I must have ADHD, ” often times sarcastically. But is it as common as we think it is? It seems like everyone our age has a bad attention span, but does that really mean we have a psychological condition that warrants medication?
In a quick survey of the journalism class, 50% of the students who took a six-question ADHD self-diagnosis quiz were found to be at high risk for developing the condition. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the national ADHD diagnosis rate for kids aged 4-17 is 9.8%. There could be many reasons why the discrepancy between the class’ survey and CDC percentage exists. The short self-diagnosis quiz may simply be too vague and inaccurate to catch the real cases of severe ADHD, which usually requires extensive evaluation before a formal diagnosis is made. While the CDC statistic is undoubtedly a better representation of reality, the shorter quiz does prove that many students do exhibit the symptoms and warning signs that lead to ADHD, albeit not the uncontrollable condition.
Why then do so many students have terrible attention spans, or at least believe that they do? Recent studies have all begun to point towards one perpetrator: the Internet. To be fair, it seems like these days technology can be used as a scapegoat for most problems, whether it be childhood obesity or social anxiety. Yet, in this case, there appears to be a direct and startling link between self-diagnosed ADHD and our use of the Internet.
A UCLA study done in 2007 showed that it takes just two weeks for a non-internet user’s brain to rewire after they begin using the Internet on a regular basis. In particular, areas of the brain used for quick decision-making and spatial reasoning show drastically increased activity for avid Internet users.
Sounds good, right? Here’s the catch: While the Internet itself is an ideal platform for intermittent attention spans, we have begun to use that kind of thinking in everyday life. We are essentially rewiring our brains to function quickly, shallowly, and disjointedly. “We want to be interrupted, because each interruption—email, tweet, instant message, RSS headline—brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated,” author Nicholas Carr writes in his book, The Shallows.
We’ve all experienced it. We start our homework, only to notice an email from Facebook. We click the link and away we go, back and forth between YouTube, Facebook, and StumbleUpon for the next three hours, realizing with a start at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday that we’ve done absolutely none of our homework. If it’s not our computers, it’s our phones, or TVs, or iPods.
Adults and students alike recognize that there are no simple solutions to this problem. As the rise of the infamous SMART board suggests, not even school officials want to disconnect from technology. Thus ADHD has become an easy scapegoat, allowing us to mask our poor work habits under the guise of a psychological disease. The consequences of our addiction to technology are not always clear, but one thing’s for certain: We may not be the dumbest generation, but we truly are the most distracted generation in the history of humankind.