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Opinion & Essays - Apr, 1996 Issue #39 

(Excerpts from an article in Redbook magazine, Dec., 1994, p. 41)
written by: Antonia Black

"-Millions of kids are downing a diet of pills to treat problems ranging from hyperactivity to learning disability. Are they really troubled--or have we become obsessed with making "perfect" children?-" 

"There's no question that for many children with biologically based diseases, such as schizophrenia, depression, or panic disorder, drug treatment vastly improves their lives.... If a disorder hampers the development that should be going on at a certain stage, says child psychiatrist Peter Jensen, M.D., chief of the Child and Adolescent Disorders Research Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), a child falls behind and has to grapple with more problems..." 

"But many doctors are concerned about the rising numbers of children who are prescribed drugs to 'fix' an ever- widening range of behaviors." "These drugs may not only be unnecessary, they may be harmful, doing damage that no one can gauge because most haven't been tested on children or approved for use specifically on children. 

Welcome to the pathologizing of childhood. Those formerly labeled 'late bloomers' are now 'developmentally delayed,' boys who once had 'ants in their pants' are diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. 'Everybody's got a disability,' says school psychologist Kevin Dwyer, N.C.S.P., a member of the National Joint Commission for Learning Disabilities." 

"Our view of what we call normal or abnormal changes with the times, says John E. Richters, Ph.D., assistant chief of the Child and Adolescent Disorders Research Branch of the NIMIL. Now, such typical childhood behaviors as forgetfulness in daily activities and talking excessively are considered symptoms of attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD) in the American Psychiatric Association's newly revised manual of mental disorders." 

"'Parents are hypersensitive today,' says Carol Eagle, Ph.D., head of child and adolescent psychology at Monteflore Medical Center in New York City. 'They wonder if typical and trivial childhood behaviors are pathological.... Something happened in the seventies and eighties that created the view that humans should never be anxious in any way. That is just nonsense.' says Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., professor of developmental psychology at Harvard University." 

"Ironically, guilt-stricken parents may be relieved by the label, and by the suggestion that their child's troubling behavior has a chemical basis." 

"Insurance companies, too, like the idea that emotional problems can be fixed with a quick prescription rather than long- term psychotherapy." 

"Many children cycle through a host of medications while doctors figure out which one works best. Particularly in preteens and teens, whose metabolism and physiology are in flux, 'you wind up switching around a lot.' In the process, kids are exposed to the risk of many more side effects. 

These can be severe. With Ritalin, for example, many children crash when the dose wears off, behaving even more uncontrollably than they did before. The drug also routinely causes insomnia, appetite suppression, stomach pains, and weight loss.' 

"What's more, rushing to medicate blinds us to the fact that children change as they grow. 'Kids do bad, messy, unattractive things---part of their development is to learn to control their impulses, which parents can help them do,' says Dr. Eagle. 'Kids given drugs won't learn how to do that.... 'We shouldn't pathologize difference.'" 

Copyright 1996, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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