Boyhood Is Not A Mental Disorder

Matt Walsh 4 Comments

My son could easily earn an “ADHD” diagnosis if we sought one. But we will not seek one because the boy is not sick. He is not disordered. The boy is a boy. More of a handful than some boys, less of a handful than others. He has his own personality, and I cannot imagine treating it like the manifestation of a mental disease.

Besides, like almost every kid with an actual ADHD diagnosis, he can learn. He can focus. He just doesn’t always learn the things we want him to learn in the way we want him to learn them. He can’t remember how to spell simple words, but he remembers songs. He sings constantly. Sometimes songs he makes up on the spot, sometimes songs he heard at church or on the radio. He knows his superheroes backwards and forwards. That might not be useful information, but it is information at least. He knows a lot about pilgrims and Indians because that historical story fascinates him. He knows about ants and other bugs. He knows Bible stories. Just yesterday he randomly started telling me facts about George Washington and recalling details from our family trip to Mount Vernon last year. We took the kids to see some old warships at the harbor last week, and he hasn’t forgotten any details about them. He asks questions. A lot of questions. A lot of questions. He’s curious about the world and the way things work.

Obviously we need to teach our boys to be obedient and respectful. And they really do need to calm down and be quiet sometimes. But boys also need to be boys.

Now, if we had him enrolled in public school, they’d tell us he has a learning disability. But he learns all the time. He loves to learn. Just in his own way and about topics that interest him. What’s wrong with that? Is the kid disabled because he doesn’t like sitting at a desk and regurgitating information? Who ever decreed that every human being in the world must be able to learn that way? Is it wrong that he prefers to go look at the ship than have someone tell him a bunch of abstract facts about it?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not some sort of enlightened parent with a perfectly accepting attitude about these things. I’ll be the first to admit that my son’s rambunctiousness can be challenging. It wears on you after a while. Indeed, a couple of nights ago I was feeling particularly not in the mood for his antics. I was annoyed, put off. I wanted some peace and quiet. I told him sternly to “calm down” and “be quiet.” Not the first time I’ve snapped at him, that’s for sure. But I was being selfish. There wasn’t anything wrong with how he was acting. I just didn’t feel like dealing with it. So often that is why boys are drugged and punished and scolded in our society. We just don’t feel like dealing with them. They present challenges that we lack the patience to meet, especially in an academic environment.

Well, that night I caught myself. I realized that I was angry at my son for the crime of being exuberant and happy. I was angry at my 5-year-old boy for being a 5-year-old boy. How is that fair? Besides, maybe he’s got the right idea. Maybe we should all be running around the house. Why not? It’s better than sitting on the couch sulking.

If there is no room in our schools, in our homes, in our culture, for boys who act like boys, then our schools and our homes and our culture — not our boys — are sick.

So, that’s what I did. I ran around the house with him. We wrestled, had a pillow fight, did piggyback rides. We played his favorite game which involves standing on the coffee table and jumping onto my chest, cracking my ribs and puncturing my lungs in the process. I barely survived, but he had fun. He went to bed tired and actually fell asleep.

Obviously we need to teach our boys to be obedient and respectful. And they really do need to calm down and be quiet sometimes. But boys also need to be boys. I’m afraid they’re rarely given that opportunity these days. They’re always being told “no,” “stop,” “calm down,” “be quiet,” “sit still.” We treat their boyhood like something that needs to be treated or fixed, like a malignant growth of some kind. We have literally made boyhood into a mental illness. And why? Because we need them to fit into the systems we have in place. We need them to go with our flow, at our pace, on our schedule. A boy’s personality, his whole way of being, is an obstacle in our path. So we harangue him, stifle him, drug him, until we’ve made him compliant.

I think we’re ruining our sons this way. We’re robbing them of themselves. It’s the worst kind of selfishness, the worst kind of narrow-mindedness. The problem is us, not them. We are the ones who need to change. If there is no room in our schools, in our homes, in our culture, for boys who act like boys, then our schools and our homes and our culture — not our boys — are sick. If we have established a system that cannot handle half of the kids who are fed into it, then the system is broken. Tear the system down. Leave the boys alone.

There is a balance, of course. We can’t let them do what they want all the time. We do have to teach them the rules and how to follow them. But I also think that sometimes, rather than forcing them fit into our way of doing things, maybe we should try to fit into theirs. Theirs is way more fun anyway.

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Matt Walsh

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Comments 4

  1. I still am one of those boys and i still love to learn new things, I was tossed into the public school system and essentially told to sink or swim in the one size fits all school system, i’m now 68 years old I own two successful businesses.

    I did learn some very important things in 12 yrs. of public education but it did not come easy, it also came with a lot negative comments from teachers and parents and those comments still bounce around in my head ” He just won’t sit still , He just won’t pay attention, He will never amount to anything and to top it off the school had me analyzed by a school Physiologist who told my parents and teachers that I was mentally retarded because I liked bright colors”

    I really appreciate your article ” Boy Hood Is Not A Mental Disorder”

  2. I love you Matt Walsh!!!! Thank you for speaking truth and doing it with such great clarity! We have 3 “normal” wild and busy boys and I couldn’t agree more with this post! Thank you!

  3. I remember when I was a summer camp counselor back in my college days. My group for the week had a boy (2nd or 3rd grade) with a prescription for ADHD that I was to administer daily in case he acted up. Sure the boy was hyperactive but no different than other cooped up energetic boys I knew as a kid. I think I only remembered the meds the first day, and the boy seemed spacey and down in the dumps. After that, I didn’t administer the pills. At camp we hiked, swam, fished, played games, sang… you name it. The boy never acted up and went to bed exhausted at the end of the day. He seemed like a happy energetic boy who just needed some exercise. When the parents picked him up, I said, “His behavior was great. He never really needed the meds.” They were shocked and surprised. I’m guessing some school counselor recommended subduing the kid with drugs because he couldn’t sit in a desk all day for 7 hours and they couldn’t handle him simply being a BOY.

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