kids are drugged into submission
anyone to name the chief dangers facing children today,
and they're likely to tick off a predictable list - homelessness
and malnutrition, poor education and inadequate healthcare.
They're not wrong. But the longer I work with children,
the more concerned I am about another quiet wave that carries
just as a great a menace: the mindset of avoidance. Call
it what you want - convenience, denial, or stubbornness
- but if there's anything that characterizes education across
the board, it's the persistent habit of turning our backs
on the hardest questions, and falling for the answers that
soothe us back to sleep.
the tendency to settle for the most painless solution to
a problem is a normal human trait, it is rarely a healthy
approach to child rearing. From parenting journals to popular
books, the wisdom is the same: children may be cute, but
raising them is a thankless chore. Childhood itself has
come to be viewed as a suspect phase. Children of all ages
and means are being squelched on the playground and in class,
not because they're unmanageable or unruly, but simply because
they're behaving like children should.
with "problems" that used to be recognized as
normal childhood traits - impulsiveness and exuberance,
spontaneity and daring - millions of children are being
diagnosed as hyperactive and drugged into submission. I'm
referring, of course, to the widespread use of Ritalin and
other related stimulants, and to the public's fascination
with medicine as the answer to any and every problem.
Ritalin is surely a legitimate drug for certain
specific conditions. But given the threefold
increase in its use in the last decade, one
has to wonder if it isn't being misused as
an easy cure-all for problems such as ADHD
(attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder)
and to rein in lively children who may not
even have the disorder. After all, much of
what is designated as ADHD is nothing more
than a defense against over-structuring -
a natural reflex that used to be called letting
off steam - or alternately, a symptom of various
unmet emotional needs. Jeff, an old friend,
gives a poignant example:
an eight-year-old from Seattle, came and stayed with us
last summer for a break from the city. When he arrived he
was a mess, though he was on Ritalin. After two or three
days, however, we weaned him off his dose, because with
all the room to play he was no longer bouncing off the walls,
but beginning to take himself in hand. (At home in his apartment
building there was nothing for him to do but watch TV.)
I could definitely see the change.
this little guy first arrived he could barely keep his attention
on anything for more than a minute, he was so keyed up and
distracted. I laid down some ground rules and gave him some
time. I took him out with a bike, since he was unsure of
how to ride. By the end of his stay he was so settled and
happy that at one point he even asked me if he could call
me Dad. I just about lost it. This child didn't need Ritalin:
all he needed was fresh air - and love."
Jerome back in the projects, and he will probably revert.
He'll be put back on Ritalin, and his "symptoms"
will be re-suppressed. Whether he'll ever get the attention
he really needs, either at home or at school, is quite another
it's one that increasing numbers of people are asking, like
Peter Breggin, a pediatrician and author: "People call
drugs like Ritalin a godsend for emotional and behavioral
problems. But I think the way they're overused is absolutely
horrifying. When I was asked by the National Institutes
of Health to be a scientific discussant on the effects of
these drugs at a conference they held, I reviewed the important
literature, and I found that when animals are given them,
they stop playing; they stop being curious; they stop socializing;
they stop trying to escape. Ritalin makes good caged animals;
we're making good caged kids. It's all very well to talk
about it taking a whole village to raise a child, but in
practice, we're acting as if we think it only takes a pill."
the dismal state of the culture described above, parenting
in the 21st century is clearly going to involve a lot of
hard work. But why should that frighten us? As long as we
run from the responsibilities that will always be there,
we will not only squander the most formative moments of
bringing up children, but also rob ourselves as well of
its most meaningful joys.
"ENDANGERED: Your Child in a Hostile World" by
J. C. Arnold.
ebook & interactive website: http://www.plough.com/endangered
Email the author at JCA@plough.com