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Children’s attention disorders are probably parental deficits

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The number of widely diagnosed "disorders" among kids seems to grow like dandelions in springtime. Particularly antsy kids who would rather do almost anything but sit still in a classroom are labeled — and medicated — as "attention deficit disorder," or ADD, cases. The worst among them get a longer acronym: ADHD, for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And now comes news of ODD, "Oppositional Defiant Disorder," for kids who don't do what they are told or who have bad tempers.

I don't mean to belittle efforts to help kids with serious problems, but with millions of children being "diagnosed" as having various "disorders" based on very loose lists of symptoms, surely something more is going on than the discovery of a child mental-health epidemic.

We are blessed in this country to have access to advanced medical technology and huge amounts of information. It is easy to believe that for every perceived problem there must be a scientific explanation and a cookbook solution.

One can't help but wonder if the growing number of cases of ADD, ADHD and ODD might have something to do with a "disorder" for which there is no handy pill: PADD, or parental attention deficit disorder.

In just one generation, the typical family has changed dramatically.

While mothers used to stay home with children at least until they reached school age if not permanently, today the typical American mother returns to the work force when her baby is just a few weeks old. As a result, day care is a booming industry, and many schools offer "all-day" kindergartens and "after-school care" in order to fill in for parents who aren't home. But don't blame moms. Most of them are just trying to help make ends meet.

Dad and Mom often are working long hours, too, because companies have to stay "lean" in order to compete in a global marketplace. "Lean" is just a gussied up way of saying that fewer people do more work. So when Dad and Mom head home for the day, they are tired. And the same communications technology that allows all of us to accomplish more things more quickly also tends to intrude on family life. It's not unusual to spot people wearing pagers at a Little League game or even at church on Sunday.

Other things compete for parents' time and attention, too.

Parents who fail to keep a proper sense of priorities can cause a "deficit" of parental time and attention for their own children. Sometimes when kids act up, they're just trying desperately to get the attention they deserve from Mom and Dad.

Veteran television personality and author Art Linkletter is national spokesman for United Seniors Association, a leading senior-citizens organization with more than 675,000 members.