There is just so much wrong here. Check out Alan Schwartz’ NewYork Times article, “Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School.” It’s not about college kids looking for an advantage.
The upshot is this: if you’ve been wondering whether there are a bunch of fake diagnoses of convenience among the nearly 10% of our school kids today diagnosed with ADHD, the answer is yes. There are doctors, parents, and teachers out there who really do just want a quick fix, and pills are cheaper than behavioral therapy, cheaper than school programs, and easier than parental discipline.
One of the families highlighted in the article has all four of their kids on medication, despite one child having already suffered the side effect of a psychotic break and a week in the psych ward at age 10. The reason given for putting their daughter on meds was merely that she was “a little blah.” All four also need another medication to counteract these stimulants and help them sleep at night. Their dad rationalizes: “If they’re feeling positive, happy, socializing more, and it’s helping them, why wouldn’t you? Why not?”
Here’s why not: The drugs are powerful, addictive, they have dangerous side effects (as these parents ought to know from experience), and we still don’t even understand how they affect the developing brain. Do these kids even know who they really are inside? Their behavior has been regulated by medications for practically their whole lives. Do they have any confidence in themselves, or are their abilities only conferred by meds? Are they worthwhile citizens only thanks to a pill? Are they a full-fledged person, or some kind of medical construct? How do they make decisions on behavior? As the 11-year-old in the article says of his meds, they “help me focus on my school work, my homework, listening to Mom and Dad, and not doing what I used to do to my teachers, to make them mad. If I don’t take my medicine I’d be having attitudes. I’d be disrespecting my parents.” Sounds to me like he sees his own personality and choices as originating with medicine, and not with himself. As if he is incapable of making the right choices without the medicine. How will he ever develop his own decision-making ability this way? What must he think of himself after his sojourn in the psych ward? And what will he think when he’s older and realizes this might have been thanks to his parents exercising a convenience to themselves and the schools, rather than a medical necessity for their own child?
This is not just one anecdote. The article cites a school superintendent who says that as school funding declines, ADHD diagnoses rise; it’s a systemic phenomenon. I think we can all agree that budget cuts don’t cause ADHD. What they do cause is fewer, more harried adults with fewer resources trying to keep order among kids in larger classes, and dealing with little zombies is easier than dealing with little hellions, especially in an era when teachers and parents alike are not allowed to use corporal punishment, shaming, or embarrassment. So we love our magic pills, and gloss over the serious side effects.
Am I favoring a return to the harsh punishments of older generations? Maybe. Way back in the stone age when my generation was in school, the teachers were allowed to rap our hands with a ruler. They were allowed to shame us in front of the class. At home, spankings and going to bed without supper were pretty common punishments in those days. And you did not want the teacher calling your parents, because then you would be punished at school and at home. Such things don’t kill you, but you certainly do not want to repeat them, and you know what? This is how you learn to weigh consequences. Growing up, I might think something like: “I better not, because I don’t want Mrs. Smith to embarrass me,” but by God, it was my own thought. I weighed the consequences of my contemplated actions and decided I didn’t want any of that, and made my own choice using my own brain. And all without psychotic side effects!
Today’s parenting world is totally alien. What sense does it make to shield our little darlings from any harsh words, set expectations, or demands, only to drug them into a psychotic break in an effort to make them into pliant little Stepford Children? How is this different from slipping a little brandy into the baby bottle, or loading your kid up with Valium before a flight? Is this okay just because a doctor prescribes it? No. Doctors like the one in the NYT article, prompted by parents and teachers, are just providing an easy way out of the hard work of parenting school-age children, and the kids are paying with their health and development.
Related article: Our Over-Medicated, Unfit Youth