Let Them Be Children
by Elena Greco
October 4, 2017
I recently became aware that eight million children in this country, some as young as six months old, are being given psychotropic drugs—amphetamines, anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, anti-however-you-don’t want-your-child to-act.
The drugging of children’s developing brains seems insane. Drugging children not only likely damages that child’s brain, potentially destroying that child’s potential for the rest of its life; it is depriving our country of the potential these children would contribute to our society and stifling the progress and development of civilization. Dumb down our children and we will not have a very bright future.
Yet physicians hand these drugs out like candy when a parent tells them that their child is exhibiting “problem” behavior. I would ask first, who is it a problem for? If it is the parent who is having a problem with the child’s behavior, perhaps drugging the parent would be more appropriate.
I believe some parents trust whatever a doctor tells them because they see the doctor—any doctor—as an expert. But the truth is that no doctor is an expert on your child’s behavior or how your particular child should behave. There is no understanding of children magically conferred by obtaining a medical degree. That is because being a child is not an illness! And behaving like a child, while possibly inconvenient for the parent, is not a disorder. It is simply behavior. Behavior, no matter what kind, is not a disorder or a disease. Is there a blood test for hyperactivity? An MRI that will show if a child is depressed? Of course not. Nor is there a drug that is a “cure” for any particular behavior.
I remember being a small child full of childish exuberance (which my mother called being “wild”) and running around excitedly exploring and pretending non-stop (i.e., “playing” or “being happy”) until I dropped. I’m sure that same small child now would be deemed “hyperactive” and put on some drug to stifle the child in her. That makes me unbearably sad.
There is a certain Frankenstein-ian slant to altering your child’s behavior chemically because you don’t like it. Perhaps you would also prefer they had brown eyes? Your nose instead of your spouse’s? Lighter hair? Children don’t come out of the box to your specifications. They are human beings. It is rather audacious to think human beings should be other than what they are and that we can or should re-make them as we choose at a time when they have no rights or say in the matter.
“That is radical language!” you might say. But really, what is radical is a drug company creating a drug for profit that has an unknown or harmful effect on children’s developing brains and asserting that it is a “cure” for something that doesn’t exist in order to sell their product (drug companies made $85 BILLION in the US last year). And even more radical is that you can find a medical doctor, someone who is trained to treat disease or injury, such as a heart condition or a broken leg, who will authorize and recommend that you give your child a drug with, again, unknown or terrible side effects both now and in the future, for the supposed purpose of stifling your child’s unwanted behavior after putting a fictitious label on that behavior and calling that label a “disorder.” Running around jumping on things, flitting from one thing to another and being unable to sit still is not a disorder when a child does it; it is simply a child being a child.
The fact that many of these drugs are known to reduce or eliminate empathy so that the user cannot feel for, or be concerned for, other people, in addition to preventing the brain from developing and lowering IQ, should be enough for any parent to choose not to drug their child. Do we really want our children to lose the ability to have empathy, which is what makes us human?
In addition, some of these drugs, particularly amphetamines (e.g. Ritalin), are addictive. When a child stops taking them, they must be weaned off, often with other drugs such as methadone, just like a drug addict (which they are). The drugs can cause heart damage, brain damage and permanent nerve damage which results in uncontrollable tics, which look similar to those in Tourette’s syndrome. They can even make your child suicidal or violent. Most of all, we cannot be absolutely certain what they do to a developing brain, although the research done so far indicates that certain parts of the brain, especially those that deal with attention, can be damaged permanently. Why would anyone risk doing this to their child?
Children are sometimes kept on these drugs for years. Their bodies and brains are in development and are more sensitive to drugs and chemicals—which is why we are careful not to expose them to toxic chemicals. Does it make any sense at all to give them mood-altering drugs? Would you give your child three martinis a day? How about a couple of joints every night? Or maybe start their day with a few cups of espresso? It doesn’t sound like a good idea, does it? That’s because it’s common sense not to give a child a mood- and brain-altering drug. We really do know better.
I understand that a child who is “hyperactive” can cause problems for parents and teachers. (I put this in quotes because all children are hyperactive in the usual sense of that word; it’s simply a matter of degree.) I really believe there is always a reason for a child’s behavior, sometimes one that is not readily apparent—especially to the parent. Children might not have insight into their behavior, but they can communicate to a non-threatening person who truly listens to them. I believe every school should have a counselor. Not the scary kind my school had (I feel certain she traveled on a broom…), but someone trained in providing a safe space for communication with children. Talking to a child about how they’re feeling would seem to be a logical first step. There are so many other channels to pursue—nutrition, chemical or food sensitivities, too much media stimulation, recent or past events, trauma or loss, issues with teachers or other children—before resorting to a potentially damaging drug that makes a junkie out of your child and takes away their vitality and charm, perhaps for the rest of their life.
What is it everyone loves about children? Their innocence, their joie de vivre, their exuberance, the happiness and laughter bubbling out of them, their enormous energy, right? All of these things are stifled or destroyed by these drugs. Do we want to take the “child-ness” out of our children and make them into small, quiet, serious adults? Please, let them be children. If you take their experience of being a child away from them, they can never get it back.
In many American homes, it seems that people do want their children to be miniature adults and bother them as little as possible. But some cultures truly value the childish character of children, seemingly accepting it in their stride, including the children in their daily lives even while they act like children. If you choose to have children, it seems logical to accept that they behave like … children.
Please, let them be children.
See Elena’s bios for more information about the author.