What are we going to do about those little monsters called children? They won’t be quiet, won’t sit still and won’t pay attention. They aren’t succeeding in school, and no matter how many drugs we pump into them, they don’t seem to get any better.
To the surprise of no one, a new study has just been released showing that the staggeringly popular prescription drug Adderall is not having any positive effects on children’s grades, and in fact may be causing more kids to drop out of school.
The finding should have been obvious, but don’t expect inattentive parents to stop buying the drug, and don’t expect greedy psychiatrists to stop handing them out like candy – for a hefty price.
The overmedication of our children is an increasingly troubling trend. We seem to think kids should behave like robots, always doing what they are told, when they are told, with no independence of thought or action. Any sign of resistance to indoctrination or disobedience of authority is diagnosed as some form of “disorder” and promptly treated with strong, dangerous drugs.
When I was in college, Adderall was the go-to drug for privileged rich kids trying to pull all-nighters for classes they had been too lazy to study for. It was a regular practice for students to announce “I’m going to see my shrink. Who needs what?” then return with a veritable pharmacological cornucopia of mood altering substances doled out by unethical or incompetent “doctors.”
The effects of these drugs were frightening. They transferred relatively normal undergraduates into hyperactive speed-freaks. And while the pills certainly kept students awake, concentration was the last thing they helped. I would be shocked if the presence of Adderall on campus improved a single grade, but it did cause alarming changes in behavior and personality, as well as apparently being quite addictive. And this is what they tell us we need to give young children.
If we want to know why children are failing in schools, the answer isn’t “lack of drugs” or even “psychological disorders.” Anyone who has ever been around a child should be able to predict the effects of cramming several dozen kids into a small, windowless room for six hours a day where they are made to sit still, pay attention and listen to the tedious droning of teachers pontificating on irrelevant subjects. This is not normal. This is not the way children are meant to be raised. In our desperate quest to compete with China and other Asian countries, we have come to believe that the secret to educational success is more rigidity, more control, and less freedom.
The problem is partially a cultural one, but it is also exacerbated by government attempts to meddle in education. No Child Left Behind, Head Start and Common Core Standards have all tried to impose top-down regulations on the way children are taught, as well as forcing them into failing public schools based on geography rather than the individual needs of students and parents.
Megan McArdle has a great article addressing this hyper-competitive fear of failure. We are so obsessed with the idea of our children ticking all the boxes – a good GPA, a high SAT score, a college education, grad school, work, marriage, kids, death – that we are terrified to allow for any experimentation or risk. The amount of pressure the average child faces today is insane. And when they don’t prove equal to it, we cram them full of pharmaceuticals at a time in their lives when their primary concerns should be climbing trees, catching frogs, and learning who they are as individuals.
Childhood suicides are becoming a major problem, and while the media has been attempting to put the blame on “bullying” – a phenomenon that has been around as long as there have been kids – few of us stop to consider whether the high-stress environment of modern schools may be contributing to the effect. Not to worry though! We can always just hand out another round of anti-depressants. What could possibly be the harm in that?