There is a growing epidemic involving school children, and there does not seem to be enough coverage in the media. More and more children are being diagnosed as having mental health disorders than ever before. Whether they are being properly diagnosed by a medical professional or sometimes unofficially by concerned parents, it does not seem to matter. Families are asking for special attention and privileges for their children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has mental health data for children from ages 8 to 15 years old. This data shows that almost 13 percent of children in this age group were diagnosed with a mental disorder within the previous year. The most common disorder identified with this data was attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Two-thirds of the 13 percent that were discovered to have a mental health disorder was identified as ADHD. The other three main mental disorders diagnosed for these children were mood disorders, conduct disorders, and major depression.

What Role Should the Teacher Play?

Years ago, these children would have just been labelled as behaviour problems in the classroom. Now they are diagnosed with medical mental disorders by a doctor in the healthcare field. Because of this, there is a gray area of what should be done in the school. Most of the time it varies teacher to teacher, but should these children be held just as accountable for their actions as kids that have not been properly diagnosed?

As a primary school teacher, I have had this conversation with quite a few parents over the years. Most of the parents have stated clearly that their child has ADHD or some sort of other mood disorder and that they should not be punished fully for constantly getting out of their seat or not paying attention in class. As a bit of a disciplinarian, this does not sit well with me. I inform the parents that their child will be held accountable for misbehaviour and they should be doing the same at home. A mental disorder does not give the children free rein in the classroom to disrupt whenever they have the urge.

This usually is the beginning of a bit of contentious relationship between the parents and the teacher. As teachers, we always strive to be as fair as possible. Educators know that not everything is so black and white. We make concessions often during the school year because no two students are alike. But for parents to demand that their child should not be punished for misbehaviour because of ADHD is a bit far-fetched. Aren’t we, parents and teachers, preparing the children to become respectable adults and to contribute positively to society? Or are we handing them ready-made excuses for misconduct and failure?

Are there School Guidelines for this Situation?

Every school district is different, but very few have guidelines in place for alternate disciplining of students with diagnosed mental health disorders. In creating guidelines like these, it could be opening up a huge can of worms down the road. If a student is punished for their classroom behaviour and parents are not happy, they will seek out doctor excuses for why the kid behaves this way. It appears we are becoming a world full of people that try to justify improper actions instead of accepting the consequences for the deeds we have done. One quick look at how far our courts are backed up will affirm this notion.

What Is the Compromise?

Educators are constantly making compromises. Each and every day of the school year is composed of exceptions to almost every rule. If a student that usually hands in their homework accidentally leaves it at home, the teacher will cut them a break most of the time. If a kid that always behaves well gets caught talking in class too much during one day, the teacher will perhaps talk to them about it instead of punishing them. The problem is when the wrong behaviour continues on an everyday basis. These type of actions cannot be overlooked.

The worst thing possible would be for the school district to write it in their handbook that students with diagnosed mental health disorders must be provided special treatment on a consistent basis. We would be setting the children up for failure in the real world if we did this. Every teacher handles situations in varied ways. Leave it up to the teacher to decide the proper guidance and punishment that each child should have. They will take everything into consideration without the need for the school district to pass down a mandate. All parents will not be satisfied, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.