I Find Myself Doing Childish, Irresponsible Things

Reader’s Question

Q; I often finding myself doing childish irresponsible things. Should I be worried? For example, last night I tried to fix the sink in my parents’ house using toilet paper to absorb water that did not go down the drain and taping pencils together and sticking them down the drain, to poke around and pouring bleach to dissolve the mold. Really, I just clogged the sink up even more. Also I occasionally dry my carpets with my blow dryer and once attempted to make home made beauty products that caused a small fire. Are these just signs of a strange quirk? Or do I have a serious lack of good judgment and responsibility and a need of growing up?

Psychologist’s Reply

Most childish, irresponsible actions have several things in common. First, they are frequently impulsively done with little planning or research. It impulsively seems acceptable to “poke” a clog for example. Second, these behaviors have little or no foresight (ability to anticipate the consequences of an action), creating most of the bad outcomes such as small fires, additional plumbing bills, etc. Third, these behaviors include a certain level of inattention and poor concentration, the inability to see when situations are getting out of hand or to recognize that we’ve added danger to a situation (like striking a match to solve something). Lastly, these behaviors are often found in individuals who have uneven experience in their background — that is — enough understanding about a problem to think they can solve it without help. It’s like the old saying “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!”

To answer your question, there is a problem with judgment here, but it’s probably not related to the need to grow up. Rather, I would bet you had and probably still have a level of ADHD, Inattentive Type in your background. All four of the above components are symptoms of ADHD, Inattentive Type. As you might suspect, this is why ADHD folks frequently find themselves in social and personal difficulty, making a variety of social and behavioral mistakes due to impulsivity, inattention, poor concentration, and lack of foresight.

There are some tricks of the trade that can help.

  1. Always research your presenting problem on the internet — looking up “unclogging sinks” before you act.
  2. Always call a trusted adult or resource.
  3. Never set anything on fire. That rarely turns out well.
  4. Never use electricity around water, like using a blow dryer while standing on a wet carpet!
  5. Learn some very simple home safety rules.
  6. Think about the worst-case outcome when you decide to fix something.
  7. Research the Internet for tips for living with ADHD. Even if you don’t have it, the tips will apply.

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