Childrearing

The Ritalin Generation? Why It’s Dangerous To Over-Simplify When It Comes To Children’s Health

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Let’s strap in parents. It’s time to talk about behavior disorders and medicating children. Always a fun discussion, right? Today’s conversation comes courtesy of the New York Timesopinion page. Bronwen Hruska writes about her son’s diagnosis with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, his year of using Ritalin to control the problem and his subsequent success after stopping the treatment in 5th grade.

Hruska concludes that our entire country is quick to diagnose problems for any child who doesn’t meet exceptional expectations. She believes that we’re pressuring parents and kids without thought to the long-term effects. She finishes her piece by warning:

If “accelerated” has become the new normal, there’s no choice but to diagnose the kids developing at a normal rate with a disorder. Instead of leveling the playing field for kids who really do suffer from a deficit, we’re ratcheting up the level of competition with performance-enhancing drugs. We’re juicing our kids for school.

We’re also ensuring that down the road, when faced with other challenges that high school, college and adult life are sure to bring, our children will use the coping skills we’ve taught them. They’ll reach for a pill.

That is a bleak outlook for kids and parents everywhere.

There’s no question that attention deficit is a growing problem, one that increased at an alarming rate of almost 5.5% each year from 2003 to 2007. According to a National Health Interview Survey, roughly 5.2 million children between the ages of 3 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. I agree that parents should be talking about this disorder and how we can help kids best. We need to dispel the rumors that surround the problem, and possibly look for coping mechanisms outside of medicating children into better students.

That being said, I don’t think it’s fair or safe to say that because one Manhattan mom’s son might have been misdiagnosed, the whole country is over-medicating their kids. And honestly, I’m surprised that the New York Times would allow a single personal story to serve as a rebuke to millions of parents who might use medication that was prescribed by doctors to help treat their children.

As a writer, I trade in stories of personal experience. In fact, a lot of the moms you’ll find on the internet are basing their observations on individual tales of parenting. And because we only have our own children to worry about, we can get a little narrow-minded and forget that millions of other parents out there have their own view, their own circumstances and their own parenting techniques. This doesn’t cause a lot of harm until we start to say that “Children are over-medicated,” instead of, “My child shouldn’t have been on medication.”

I do not doubt Hruska’s story. And I am truly sad that she felt pressured to evaluate her child for a disorder, then resigned in to giving him a treatment she wasn’t sure about. But I think her tale is the perfect example as to why each child’s circumstance needs to be weighed individually, instead of using it to make broad assumptions about millions of kids. This mom needed to be supported, and her opinion should have been given more respect by the teachers and doctors who taught and treated her son.

That does not mean that her opinion should be valued more than another mother who is dealing with her own personal story and might come to a different conclusion.

Medication for children is a complex topic. It reaches outside of attention deficit. It has a lot of angles to consider. And as much as one mom’s story is important and valuable, it can’t be used to make vast generalizations about millions of children. I’m disappointed that the Times chose to air a piece that did so.

(Photo: Alexei Nikolaevich/Shutterstock)