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Lazy Child Syndrome? Doctor sees it often

Fifteen-year-old Danny was a pleasant and bright teen whose parents sought help due to his chronic academic underachievement. His grades were mediocre, and he didn’t participate in any school activities. He had a few friends, but no interests other than watching movies or playing video games.

Might Danny be clinically depressed, or perhaps suffering from ADHD? Maybe he had a poor self-concept due to living in the shadows of his accomplished gymnast sister?

After spending several hours with Danny, my diagnosis was Lazy Child Syndrome.

You won’t read about this disorder in any medical text or psychological manual, but I see this personality type often in my office.

Here are the symptoms: inflated sense of self-worth, strong sense of entitlement and parents who demand little and expect even less. These kids have little interest in most activities and no sense of curiosity about the world. They are rather passive and enjoy activities that require little effort. They expect to be entertained or be given things to keep them busy and happy.

These types of kids are exasperating. In spite of supportive parents, financial security and a high level of aptitude, Danny never got engaged with the world. Isn’t it frustrating to watch your child who has been given so much accomplish so little?

Here were my recommendations to Danny’s parents.

1. Set and enforce achievable standards. In spite of his gifted abilities, Danny was too lazy to be an accomplished student. However, his parents should expect at least grades of C or above and involvement in one school club each semester. Danny’s iPhone and computer access were made contingent upon his achieving those standards.

2. Stop enabling passive behavior. Danny is not entitled to the latest video games and iPhone. There wasn’t any incentive to work when his whining and manipulating got him whatever he wanted. His parents were financially secure and wanted him to enjoy the benefits of their accomplishments, but that approach only undermined Danny’s motivation.

3. Accept the reality that Danny may develop in ways very different than what you intended. This was a difficult discussion with the parents. We work hard to provide material benefits and emotional support for our children. We sacrifice and often place our kids’ needs before our own, hoping and praying that our efforts will pay off.

Sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes our children disappoint us. They make terrible decisions and fail to take advantage of extraordinary opportunities. We don’t understand any of this because there is no explanation for their behavior.

We are forced to accept the uncomfortable truth that in spite of our best efforts kids really do determine their own destiny.

Next week: What’s the connection between ADHD and substance abuse?

Dr. Ramey is a child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital. He be contacted at

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