The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Short Attention Span

Bryce J. Christensen and Nicole M. King

Educational officials struggle to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of students manifesting the symptoms associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). But not all students are equally at risk of developing this disorder. In a recent study, researchers at universities in Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama report that children in intact families are decidedly at less risk for developing ADHD than are peers from broken homes.

The family-structure predictors of ADHD stand out in this new study as part of a broader effort to comprehend a disorder widely recognized as “one of the most common childhood neurobehavioral disorders” found in the catalogue of “psychiatric, behavioral, and learning disorders . . . [that have] increased over the past decade.” The researchers explain that “ADHD is characterized by pervasive and developmentally inappropriate symptoms such as severe lack of attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity that affects children and persists through adulthood in 30–50% of ADHD affected children.” Psychologists report this “multi-factorial and clinically heterogeneous disorder . . . affects about 9% to 15% of school going children in the US.”

To identify the social, personal, demographic, financial, and behavioral predictors of ADHD, the researchers scrutinize data collected for a nationally representative sample of 68,634 children ages 5 to 17 years old. These data establish a number of predictors of ADHD. For instance, children who watched more than an hour of television a day or who lived with a smoker were decidedly more at risk of ADHD than were peers who watched less television or who did not live with a smoker. But no predictor of ADHD is freighted with greater social significance than is that of family structure: the researchers report that children who lived in a two-parent family faced “decreased odds of being diagnosed with ADHD” (Odds Ratio of 0.70).

The researchers acknowledge that because of “the cross-sectional and observational nature of the data, a cause and effect relationship between ADHD and the associated factors can not be deduced” from their findings. But the suspicion grows that more than mere coincidence inheres in the apparent linkage between the epidemic of ADHD in recent decades and the breakdown of family life during the same decades.

(Ravi K. Lingineni et al., “Factors Associated with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder among US Children: Results from a National Survey,” BMC Pediatrics 12 [2012]: 50.)