It is not just in Florida one finds doctors medicating children, even toddlers, for behaviors long known as normal in children — shyness, restlessness, short attention spans, fear/grief when left by parents in a new school, daycare, etc. Britain now has concern about the 120 fold increase in 1994 to 2009 of medicating children with psychiatric drugs. A prominent educational psychologist, Dr. Dave Traxson, responds to this dangerous trend:
“I feel very strongly that the time is right to challenge the growing practice of medicating children for displaying behaviours and thought processes that until recently would have fallen within the normal range. This pathologisation [labeling diseases] of normal responses to often demanding situations for children, is in my view insidious and pervasive at this time and threatens to produce a collective societal shift of perspective about childhood which can only be detrimental in the longer term.
“In my opinion, the aim of pharmaceutical companies is…financial gain and they have popularised the idea that many problems are caused by suggested imbalances in brain chemicals which drives further consumption of their products. We know that overuse of medication potentially causes lifelong damage in areas of the brain and possibly increase drug dependency in adulthood. As a professional working with children this causes me great concern…I feel a national review of these worrying practices must be undertaken”. *
A crucial point in this discussion is viewing children’s behavior with compassion, not from an impatient teacher or caretaker’s viewpoint. The new trend to label most childhood behavior as a “disorder”, and in need of medications (heavily advertised by the pharmaceutical industry), winds up taking pressure off teachers to improve their own performance. This is not a good thing. In fact, literacy levels are sorely declining.**
Maria Montessori, world-famous educator, medical doctor and psychiatrist, likened a young child to an emigrant going to a new country where s/he knows nothing of the language, social customs, acceptable behaviors, or indeed anything at all. Her description could, if we were not too prejudiced by psychiatrists, help us empathize with children and better understand their needs as expressions of survival instincts, not as anything abnormal. Dr. Montessori reminds us that schools are, after all, for children, not the teachers’ comfort.)
“The tendencies which we stigmatize as evil in little children of three to six years of age are often merely those which cause annoyance to us adults when, not understanding their needs, we try to prevent their every movement, their every attempt to gain experience for themselves in the world (by touching everything, etc.). The child, however, through this natural tendency, is led to coordinate his movements and to collect impressions [recorded memories of senses], especially sensations of touch, so that when prevented he rebels, and this rebellion forms almost the whole of his ‘naughtiness.”
Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, Moral Factors section states, “It is we who provoked the children to the violent manifestations of a real struggle for existence.”
If we can grant to children, especially the very young, freedom to move (rather than sit still at desks) and to practice coordinating their bodies, to explore by touching, and experiencing their environments, then we allow them to learn. To stop their movement, call their restlessness a “disorder”, drug them so they sit still and listen to a language they have barely learned — then our behavior is in fact out of order. By the time they are teens with raging hormones, drugged since childhood, we might well fear some very bad consequences — even perhaps drug-crazed violence with its horribly tragic results.