The New York Times recently reported that between 1994-2003, the number of children diagnosed as having bipolar disorder has jumped 40 fold, from 20,000 to 800,000 per year. These kids are being treated with drugs that include anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, anti-depressants, and stimulants. I know from my work with the ADD/ADHD population that during the same nine year period, there was over a 400% increase in kids age 2 to 4 years old being medicated, even though the Physicians Desk Reference does not recommend common ADD drugs like Ritalin for children under the age of eight. What’s going on?
Because of the ADD/ADHD focus my work took in the mid-to-late nineties, I’ve often spoke about how these kids were viewed as a computer virus by the mainframe computer we call public education. These bright, inquisitive, and challenging children exposed the deficiencies of the public education system. And like anything that is fighting for its life, the system fought back.
A “drugging’em up and dumb’em down” attitude serves the system well. In my book Managing The Gift: Alternative Approaches For Attention Deficit Disorder, I wrote about how ADD is part of the evolutionary process of the human species, and why it is truly a gift. As my work continued, I watched as diagnoses of all kinds of children’s mental “disorders” increased. And I saw how the medical cocktails that doctors and the school system used to “solve the problem” were performing the chemical equivalent of a lobotomy.
Why? Our children frighten us; they represent a level of change and new self-awareness that frightens many of the educational system bureaucrats that we have allowed to rise into positions of power. They question and see things that we don’t always want to see or acknowledge. Many of these questions make the powers that be feel uncomfortable or bring up questions they don’t want to answer.
In addition, the physical, emotional and intellectual worlds so many of our children are now being exposed to rob them of their childhood at younger and younger ages. They are now being sexualized from the time that they can walk and talk, and children are being sexually victimized in increasingly large numbers.
There is a growing level of anger at the loss of those things that children were once able to take for granted. Through movies and TV, today’s children get to see and hear about a time in this country when children were allowed to be children. They have glimpses of a time when neighborhoods provided a real sense of community and neighbors were like extended family members. They feel the loss of present parenting, safe neighborhoods to play in, and the freedom to be a child during childhood.The isolation children experience when they communicate mainly through computers/the Internet and cell phone texting is causing a decrease in real world social skills. At the same time, children are expected to “be normal” and are pressured to get what they need to perform well on tests while coping with the problems of being squeezed into overcrowded classrooms caused by shrinking educational budgets.
These things and more are giving our kids anxiety disorders. But instead of working towards making positive changes with them and their environment, we as a society are just getting more free with drugs—prescription drugs, but still drugs. We make these choices for our children, then are horrified when our teenage child starts changing out the prescription drugs and replacing them with recreational drugs, and we scream foul. But who taught them that drugs were the answer? We did.
Am I just singing “Auld Lang Syne” about lost childhoods? No. Time moves on, but there is always the adult/parenting responsibility to minimize the damage caused by changing times, as well as to maximize the good things that come from time marching forward. Staying present and fully aware of what it is like to be five, eight, twelve, or even eighteen in today’s world is a major requirement of parenting. This happens through good, consistent communications. It must be clear to the child that the desire of their parent and adult authority figures is to know and understand the child’s world, and to take an active role in assisting them maneuvering through it; not to judge it or correct it, but to lovingly participate in it.
Parents must also be the primary ears, eyes, and understanding for our children, and play this role with the knowledge that what is best for the educational system is not always best for our children. Parents and guardians must also be willing to fight the system when needed and always endeavor to understand the child’s version of what is going on. Sometimes that involves helping them find the words to express their perspective on the world.
Don’t assume that because a child might struggle in trying to communicate what is going on in the world that it automatically means they are wrong or guilty. It is far better to take the approach that you need to dig deeper and help them find a better way to communicate their needs and what is going on from their eyes. Lastly, when going into the place of being your child’s intermediary in the world, do your best to check your own baggage around authority figures or what people may think at the door. If you don’t think you can do that, then find your child an advocate who can.
So where do we go from here? Taking actions such as: better diets, more communication (the non-judgmental kind), joint family activities, and bringing in mediators when necessary. In seventeen years of spiritually based coaching and counseling, I’ve never found that any of the commonly used questions or comments helped to facilitate positive change:
- How have I failed you?
- I am so disappointed in you.
- How could you do this to me (or your family)?
- I brought you up better than that…
- You could never do that...
- You have no responsibility in that...
- Just because I do that doesn’t mean it’s okay for you.
Instead, we need to recognize our children’s individuality and know they have their own paths. We need to role model to them what we want to see from them, set good boundaries, be consistent, and teach them about actions and consequences.