Friday, April 22, 2005

Ritalin-Creating Caged Kids

"Jerome, 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.

When 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."

Put 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 question. Fortunately 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."

Given 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 rob ourselves as well of its most meaningful joys.

Excerpted from "ENDANGERED: Your Child in a Hostile World" by J. C. Arnold. Available as a free ebook at www.ChristophArnold.com.

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