It has often been said that children are our future. But, how are we, today’s Americans, doing by our children? How well are we bringing them up? How well are we preparing them to go out in the world?
In many parts of the world parents have relied on custom and tradition and have believed themselves responsible for their children’s moral development. In today’s America we do not teach filial piety and self-discipline. Any parent, like the Tiger Mom, who values such principles is excoriated and reviled.
Instead, we prefer to drug children into submission. We do not teach good behavior but we diagnose much bad behavior as a neurological disorder and give too many children medication that will not teach them good habits but will subdue their bad habits. We say that they have ADHD and we give them amphetamines.
We ignore ethics, but we believe that science has all the answers.
So says reporter Alan Schwarz in a new book called ADHD Nation. Dr. Sally Satel reviewed the book yesterday in the Wall Street Journal.
She begins by pointing out the epidemics in the news today:
Two epidemics dominate the news today: the Zika virus and the rampant use of opiate drugs. To these, New York Times reporter Alan Schwarz adds another: the long-simmering plague of rambunctious American children who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and prescribed the drugs that treat it.
The numbers are startling. Today six million children under the age of 18, or 15% of the nation’s youth, are diagnosed with ADHD; for boys alone, the rate is 20%. Reasonable estimates of the disorder’s prevalence in children, many experts agree, should be in the 5% range.
We have seen many stories about how medical professionals are getting people hooked on opioids. They are and have been doing the same by overprescribing amphetamines to children.
Schwarz is not the first to notice the point, but the fact deserves some serious consideration. Medical professionals, in collusion with parents and school teachers, are hooking an obscene percentage of children on amphetamines. Since they have medical licenses, we do not consider them to be pushers, but the stories Schwarz recounts suggest that that is what is happening.
Sometimes, Satel explains, children do suffer from ADHD. The diagnosis is not a mirage. And yet, when a child is suffering from other ADHD other, non-pharmaceutical options should be available. As it happens these options are more difficult and more time-consuming. Better to write a prescription and be done with it.
Even when the diagnosis is legitimate, medication is not necessarily required—family counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy can sometimes be sufficient. But medication is the default option, and medication, in this case, means stimulants, as counterintuitive as that may seem: The aim of the drugs is to increase neurotransmitters such as dopamine that boost focus and increase concentration.
Who is to blame?
The blame lies with overzealous physicians; parents worried that their kids will not excel at school and in life; school systems looking to rein in troublemakers; and pharmaceutical companies pushing new stimulants on physicians and, in ads, on parents.
While we are casting blame, why not mention a culture that has been promoting the idea that mental illness is caused by a chemical imbalance and that the right cocktail of designer drugs can bring you health, wealth and happiness.