Crazy Busy

Ferrari engines with bicycle brakes can best describe the brains of children growing up in the 21st century, says Dr. Edward (Ned) Hallowell. The world has gone ADD, according to the psychiatrist and author who explains that while Attention Deficit Disorder is a biological condition, our screen-sucking existence creates an attention surplus for us all. We have become connected electronically, but disconnected emotionally, the expert suggests, rendering us “Crazy Busy,” the title of his book on the subject.

I was really fortunate to have had a chance for a casual conversation with Ned Hallowell while at the American Camp Association’s annual national conference in Orlando. On the eve of his keynote presentation, we began talking about the opportunities the camp experience provides as an antidote to the forces of distraction, bombardment, and over-stimulation, which, in turn, fuel anxiety, fear, and overall worry.

I was excited for Ned to share with over 1,000 camp professionals the root sources of troubles for kids who are growing up in a universe which holds as its treatment plan, “try harder” – because if we understand the basis, then we can alter the course. And so I am equally eager to share with you what camp directors learned last week from Ned: “Take charge.”

There are five components to balancing the fast-paced and high-stressed life in which parents and children intersect in the Venn diagram of being “overstretched, overbooked, and about to snap.” While, as it happens that all these attributes comprise the underpinning of the camp experience, parents also can redirect their own children by being aware of these assets.

Feeling connected is akin to feeling safe; it is the “spinal column” of knowing that you are a part of something greater than yourself. Connection is a touchstone in our frenzied 500-channel universe, which also is tethered by countless datapoints.

Play, “the most elevated form of investigation,” is defined by Ned as any activity in which the imagination is involved; it is the opposite of being told what you’re to do. Practice and mastery are next, skills that foster progress, which in turn lead to confidence. Recognition provides validation, which directs us back to connection. Together, these proficiencies thwart the culturally induced ADD that saps us and instead promote resilience, the ability to bounce back in the face of adversity.

One of my favorite stories about transformative power is “The Velveteen Rabbit” by Margery Williams. “Real isn’t what you are made of,” explains the Skin Horse, who lives on a shelf in a nursery with other toys including the stuffed rabbit; “It’s a thing that happens to you.”

Perhaps we could take a cue from the First Father, who, in spite of his “crazy busy” life filled with major obligations and unending business hours, is portrayed in a New York Times article as “a modern-day dad who leaves the Oval Office for dinner with his girls, rarely misses a parent-teacher conference or piano recital, and prides himself on having read all seven books in the Harry Potter series aloud with Malia.” Mrs. Obama admittedly “juggles play dates and homework with speeches to federal agencies and students.” Both have pledged to keep the girls from becoming self-important. In their high-profile lives of motorcades and queens, the presidential parents have vowed that Malia and Sasha will make their own beds and walk (and pooper scoop) their much-anticipated new puppy.

Of course, that same doting dad insisted on keeping his BlackBerry, reinforcing Ned’s point that we have to make a conscious effort to equalize human connections and technology: “Emotion is the on/off switch for advanced thinking,” says Ned, who also noted that the world has changed more in the past 10 years than in all the years since Gutenberg invented the press.

Tuck-in Tips

  • What is your favorite toy? If it had feelings, what would it be thinking?
  • Which friend makes you feel best about yourself? How does he/she do that?
  • Talk about the things that you like about yourself? Can you remember when you couldn’t do them so well?