This post will surely anger, irritate, and cause many parents to call me ignorant of their child’s “problems”, but since this is my blog and my opinions – feel free to disagree and find a nice cozy “support group” for other parents like you – the millions of parents who drug their young children as a first course for behavioral problems, rather than exhaust changing your parenting techniques. I’ve been reading about and talking to parents for over 26 years about this subject and my mind is made up on the matter. Americans love creating new “medical maladies” for bad behavior, from early childhood all through adulthood it’s easier to create serious-sounding ailments and dole out drugs to treat the “symptoms”, when the truth lies that in most cases the ailment is nothing more than a bad behavioral “choice”. We’ve turned alcoholism and drug abuse into diseases and worked our way back to creating psychiatric conditions in need of medical intervention as soon as children start interacting with their world. Pharmaceutical companies responded with a boon of pills to pop and we’ve got an entire society in need of a cold turkey detox from this vicious, free fall collapse of morality and dependence on “experts” rather than taking responsibility for our behavior and the behavior of our children. G. Murphy Donovan tackles the larger picture of our cultural lunacy in a piece at The American Thinker yesterday, “The Psychobabble Bubble“.
Long ago (26 years ago), I took my second son to an Army medical facility for a well-baby check-up. He was 2 years old. Now, this son was child number three and I was used to caring for my own babies and since I grew-up out in the country within a large family and even larger extended family, I had spent my life around lots of children. I worked as a babysitter from the time I was 13 years old, I got stuck with the youngest preschoolers during vacation Bible school at church in summertime as a teenager. Small children, with their varied behavioral challenges were nothing new to me. I knew my son was perfectly normal. Mind you this was a “well-baby” visit, so there I sat for a very long time in the waiting room and then longer still in the actual examination room awaiting the pediatrician. My son was tired of sitting on my lap so long and once we were in the examination room, I let him get down off my lap and move around. He loved to run and explore everything, but he still conformed to living by my rules and yes, I had set mealtimes, set nap time and once I weaned my kids off of the bottle they learned the rule of sitting at the table for snack time and drinks. I didn’t allow my kids to wander around the house with food and drinks and this rule held into their teens. I constantly told them, “We eat at the table!” – it wasn’t optional. I taught them how to set the table and basic table manners by consistent reinforcement – that’s how you train dogs and that’s how you train people too.
So, there we were sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting and finally the doctor entered the room, so I scooped my son back onto my lap and he squirmed and wanted to get down and run some more. That minute or so of him squirming led to the pediatrician telling me my son was “hyperactive” and should be medicated for this – to avoid future problems. My first reaction was “Oh no, there’s something wrong with him”, which was swiftly followed by the rebellious thought, “I know my son and this man has been around my son a couple of minutes, what the hell does he know about him.” Mind you my son wasn’t screaming, he was just squirming a lot and when the doctor told me to set him down, my son took off running around exploring the office. He insisted that my son is hyperactive, but I sat there watching my son and his behavior seemed like normal two-year old behavior. So, I politely told this “expert” that we like our son just the way he is and that we were here for a well-baby check-up. I refused medication.
My son always busily explored the world around him and once he learned to read, he explored books as actively as the world. He loves to take things apart and try to put them back together, after he figures out how they work. When we first got a PC, he quickly became the family tech support expert. Now, this son is the only one of my kids who was shy like me and he kind of hangs back and listens when in a crowd. He doesn’t like competing with other people, because he’s so busy with his own personal quests. He sets a lot of personal goals – this supposedly hyperactive child spent years reading through 800+ page computer manuals, exhaustively learning everything he could about computers – hardware stuff and software stuff. He loves math and signed out calculus books during one summer vacation as a young teen (long before he studied calculus in school), because he said, “Calculus is fun!”
We urged him to go to college right out of high school, but he didn’t want to do that, despite having excellent grades. He enlisted in the Air Force and worked on electronic systems on fighter planes. He deployed to Iraq once and did well in the Air Force, with his commanders urging him to consider attending the Air Force Academy, but he had other plans. He finished his four-year stint, came home and went to college. He graduated summa cum laude with a degree in physics and although he wanted to go to grad school immediately, he changed that plan upon marrying a girl here. She didn’t want to move away from her family, so he decided to find a job here. He landed a good job doing software design for a company that does a lot of contract work for the Air Force and then moved on to a better job working for an aeronautical corporation as a software engineer – despite taking not a single computer class in college – he is self-taught. He still plans to go to grad school and pursue theoretical physics research, which he got hooked on in college, working for the head of the physics department as a research assistant. He attended several American Physical Society meetings around the country with this professor, who presents his research there too. We’re very proud of him and I often remind him that long ago some doctor wanted us to drug him into submission, but I am so glad I told that doctor we like him just the way he is.
This isn’t meant to sound like I am a great a parent or my kids are so great, because I have another son who has problems. He also is a brilliant, talented young man too, but he hit some roadblocks and hasn’t figured out how to move past them and as a parent, these roadblocks are frustrating and filled with anguish. For this post I want to stick to the ritalin generation topic.
A few days ago, America’s paper of record, The New York Times, ran a front page story,“The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder”, decades late, but at long last a counter-movement to this insidiously destructive epidemic of medical malpractice seems to be gaining some traction. Dr. Keith Connors, an early advocate for drug therapy for childhood ADD now looks back at the statistics and states:
“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”
These statistics which so alarm Connors, quoting from the Times piece, “that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990” and he considers these numbers “a national disaster of dangerous proportions”. When I look back to how my son could have been a part of that statistic, I am always so thankful that my mother, a dedicated registered nurse, refused to buy into so much of the mental health industry’s push toward the Oprahization of medicine, where creating national awareness using flimsy “experts” converted America from a self-reliant culture to a self-absorbed culture where the national pastime centers on investing extraordinary amounts of time into self-awareness and self-empowerment, with the requisite prescriptions of medication to soften the ride, toward finding yourself.
Around the Army, we moved frequently, our kids had to leave friends behind, start over at new schools and make new friends constantly. My husband spent large amounts of time away from home training with the Army. The central focus in my life, being a stay-at-home mother, was making sure my kids had a set routine and adjusted to these changes. Sure, I learned as I moved more often, but my kids adjusted well and of course there were a few instances of small problems here and there, but my kids thrived in school and they made friends quickly. Now, my son mentioned in this post had a small issue when we moved back from Germany after 5 years living there. His teacher (4th grade if my memory serves me) called me one day early in the school year to discuss my son’s reading “problems”. She told me he does not know how to read, which stunned me, because my son was an excellent reader. I asked her how she determined this and she said when she called on him to read out loud he couldn’t read well and stumbled over most of the words. I told her that he is very shy and he doesn’t know any of the kids or her. I assured her that he was an excellent reader, as his school records from his previous school could affirm. I urged her that with some patience he would become comfortable in this new classroom. He did and he was an excellent student there too.
I met many parents around the Army who didn’t spend much time focusing on their kids and the kids got shuffled along, while the parents indulged in their own self-absorbed activities, leaving the kids to run wild. You combine frequent moving, absent parents, and lack of structure in the home and it’s no wonder the military rates for these so-called behavioral maladies are much higher.
Here’s one of those home truths that Army commanders and the support agencies that deal with Army families know, but won’t ever articulate – way too many young Army families have a “welfare mentality”, which the Army perpetuates by sloganeering stuff like, “we take care of our own” or you’re part of the “Army family”. A fortune is spent on providing services for families in the Army and since I dedicated a lot of time to helping in Army family support activities and I lived in Army communities, I feel qualified to say this. Efforts have been made to work toward teaching “self-reliance”, but when you encourage dependency through your messaging and then expect self-reliance when soldiers deploy, you’ve set up your support agencies to be bombarded. If you live in an environment prone to disorder, like moving all the time, creating stability in your home becomes even more crucial to children’s welfare. If you show me a kid with ADD, I’ll show you a home where there is either a lack of structure and routine, a lack of consistent discipline or both. Kids are like dogs – some are easier to train than others, but all except a very minuscule fraction are beyond training.
We’ve got way too many parents who have never learned any self-restraint, self-discipline or how to follow a routine and then you stick kids into this chaotic mix and naturally the more disordered the home routine, the worse the kids behave. Set some rules and a routine and the vast majority of kids thrive and kids with problems benefit the most from a structured routine and consistent discipline. We all thrive if there is order in our lives.
In recent years the “experts” have grown their list from ADD to ADHD and now it’s autism and Asperger’s syndrome too. I walk away when parents start regaling me with this crap, because in most (maybe even all) of these situations, I look at the parents and then I have my answer as to “the real problem”. The problem runs deeper than bad parenting, it runs to men and particularly women buying into other people’s ideas on parental roles and how to view these roles – with the push toward women pursuing careers in lieu of staying home full-time with children. Fathers latched onto the feminist push out the door and way too many play peripheral roles in their children’s lives rather than playing a central leadership role in the home. A home is a place where civilization is nurtured and if we abandon that, our culture suffers. Mary Eberstadt penned an excellent piece at National Review Online today, “Why Ritalin Still Rules”, leaving this prescient observation on the rampant drugging of American children – “In the ashes of the sexual revolution, someone has found a gold mine.”
You want a simple solution – Quit buying into other people’s bullshit! Think for yourself! Quit listening to so many celebrity experts, mental health experts, and commercials selling magic pills. Make your family the central focus of your life. Start by learning to live by a routine and some rules yourself, then expand out to getting some organization in your family’s routine. American culture is in chaos, because American homes are in chaos – it’s way past time for American women to regain control of the home roost.