A dear friend of mine currently faces a minor crisis related to her teenage daughter. Having some difficulty in school and managing her time and life in general, she actually reached out to her mother for help. She believes she has attention deficit disorder.
My friend immediately started studying the condition and upon the recommendation of a counselor, picked up a book on the topic that addresses the issue as it relates to girls, and in which it lists a series of questions about your kid’s general behavior. She read them to me, so I don’t know exactly how many questions, but I’d venture about twenty.
Questions along the lines like “Does your child seem unfocused?” and “Does your child have difficultly getting up the morning?”, etc.
At the end of the list, I looked at my friend and said, “As a thirteen year old, I could have answered in the affirmative to almost all of those questions.”
Naturally, I should preface this by saying I have no degree in child psychology or behavior or whatever, but as a father, I have deep concerns about administering drugs to kids for a condition that to me seems as natural and eternal as the sun rising in the morning and setting in the evening. Pubescent kids, raging with hormones are sometimes barely civilized creatures. Their minds are all over the map, and they struggle with believing that they simultaneously know everything and nothing all. Throw acne into that maelstrom of emotions and you have a domestic tinderbox that at times seems to threaten the existence of the entire universe.
I am seeing a number of studies coming out that show we make teenagers adhere to a daily school schedule completely in conflict with their natural circadian rhythms. Their bodies need sleep — lots of it. So, instead of allowing that, we force them to get up too early and foist so much homework upon them that they go to bed too late. My friend tells me her daughter brings home nearly three hours of homework per night.
With this in mind, I see this rush to medicate as an ominous bandaid to “fix” a condition that only exists due to our one-size-fits-all school systems. To make matters worse, the schools all now have to prepare the kids not for life, but for the standardized tests that start in third grade.
Where does it say, other than in the union contract, that high schoolers must begin class at 8am and end at 2pm? Why can’t it start at 10 and end at 5? Instead of bending the teenager to the system, wouldn’t it make more sense to design the system for the teenager and spare ourselves the unintended consequences of graduating armies of drug addled students and entrusting them with the future of our society?
I don’t doubt that Adderall and its equivalents can do some good for some kids. Indeed, when my friend’s daughter did start on her medication, she saw almost immediate results, but she called her a “Stepford child.” In the ensuing weeks, however, the effects haven’t proven lasting.
Lord knows I have a challenging kid. I would answer in the affirmative for her with all of the questions in that quiz, but I’d like to see her difficult nature as her ticket to a better life. My challenge as a parent is to direct all that energy towards a positive outcome. I too bristled against authority, argued with people, was forgetful, shy, and sometimes lacked focus, but these are also the traits of creative types — people who forge trails.
I certainly worry about my daughter venturing in the creative arts. As a career choice, it frankly sucks, but creativity can be applied in any field. Independent thinkers seem in too-short supply these days, especially if I use Facebook comments and internet forums as my metric. Dogmas must constantly be questioned, and I would never count on people with their wills broken or muddled by the effects of a heavily marketed, easily administered, final pharmaceutical solution to advance our culture.