Doping our kids

By Joel Miller

For a country that rigorously fights to keep our kids off drugs, an ever-increasing number of runny-nosers are popping pills like they’re going out of style – which they definitely are not.

“An estimated half-million schoolkids are now taking powerful anti-psychotic drugs – more than 10 times the number a decade ago – and some experts worry that too many children are getting these drugs inappropriately to control aggressive behavior,” reported USA Today in July.

Doctors put their unreadable signatures on more than 33 million prescriptions for the drugs in 2001, a gain of nearly 35 percent from 1999.

Like Ritalin scrips shuffled out the doctor’s office with all the speed and number of gospel tracts from the hands of street preachers, this boost in brainbenders smacks of chemical parenting.

It’s not a shockingly new thing. Victorian mothers, especially those who worked in factories, sedated their children with opium to free their hands for other duties. While the reasons for this were more economic than anything, the practice is the same – using a psychoactive to control a child instead of parental discipline and guidance. The difference is that the practice is fast and furious these days.

Doubtless, some children probably benefit from the many drugs. Some are probably better behaved, pull fewer ponytails, stay seated longer in class and provide fewer opportunities for their parents and teachers to work on their forbearance. While it may sound it, I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate cases for the drugs’ use, but I am betting there are far more illegitimate cases.

“Ninety percent of the world’s supply of methylphenidate (Ritalin) is used in the USA,” according to USA Today, “and 80 percent of the U.S. supply is used by children. …” Is the U.S. really home to a hugely disproportionate number of hyperactive kids, or is the rest of the world preposterously behind in treating their jittery juniors?

Regarding the use of anti-psychotics, do we really have 450,000 psychotic kids running around that weren’t on the prowl a decade ago? Somehow, I doubt it. But for whatever reason, we’ve flipped the calendar forward a decade from slightly misbehaved Gen X to doped and muted Gen Rx.

Richard DeGrandpre, author of “Ritalin Nation,” argues that we don’t have slews of sick kids beset with new and improved mental tics. The mass prescription of behavior-controlling drugs for children has more to do with a society that refuses to deal with relational and cultural problems as such and instead uses dope to smooth over the rough edges – chemical crutches. Given that, the only real difference between using Ritalin and using drugs like cocaine, meth and ecstasy is that Ritalin and other kiddy dope come with happy-face stickers from the local pharmacist.

Parents who resort to such measures too quickly, who mask disciplinary problems in psychobabble so they can just pop a pill in Junior’s mouth and get back to work, are shortchanging and even harming their children by abdicating their roles as mothers and fathers.

Perhaps the most stunning irony here, besides such a strident drug-warring country shoveling so many pills down our children’s gullets, is that this abdication also leads to other drug abuse.

Once ingested, Ritalin’s results are much the same as cocaine. DeGrandpre notes several cases of children abusing the drug; some kids actually grind up their pills and snort them; others buy and sell them like runty, little dope dealers. But bad as this is, far more worrisome drug abuse comes from parental abdication.

A Columbia University study shows that isolation from parents and rigorous schedules that keep kids from constructive “down time” with mom and dad are key contributors to middle class kids’ use of drugs and alcohol.

“Suniya S. Luthar, a professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia’s Teacher’s College, had first studied an older cohort of suburban high school students as a control group to compare with inner-city youth,” explains UPI reporter Lou Marano. “The suburban 10th-graders had significantly higher levels of every kind of substance use – cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and hard drugs – than did their inner-city counterparts.”

Puzzled, researchers went back into the field. The results turned out the same for junior high kids as well. The verdict was basically that parents, too wrapped up in work and “events,” aren’t spending enough time actually parenting. The result: Kids abuse drugs.

Even drug smugglers know this is true.

“We don’t have a drug problem in this country. We have a problem of parental guidance,” infamous narcotrafficker George Jung told filmmaker Ted Demme in an interview. “People concentrate more on the guy who repairs their car than on the teacher who teaches their kids. [Until] they wake up to that fact, the tragedy will continue. … If people can’t grasp it, then they don’t want to.”

Maybe they don’t. The two-salary income has a lot of perks. In a society geared economically toward such an income, one parent staying at home to make sure little Jane and Johnny grow up well is hard work demanding a lot of sacrifice.

The question is, are our children worth it, or would we rather pump them full of official drugs and leave them alone to pursue the unofficial sort?

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