Reports that psychiatric drugs are increasingly being prescribed for toddlers should give Americans pause. These drugs, notably Ritalin, are commonly administered to older, school-age children thought to have attention disorders. But two- to four-year-olds?
A recent study highlighting increased use of these drugs to control behavior in young children focused on two state Medicaid programs and a health maintenance organization. Presumably, many of the children in the study spend time in day-care settings, where overworked staffs strive to maintain a semblance of order.
Institutional pressures only grow as kids move into regular school. Today, drugs are often relied on to keep disruptively active kids under control. Some principals have reportedly demanded that certain students be medicated. In Lawrence, Mass., for example, the public schools have been sued by parents objecting to a drugs-or-expulsion ultimatum.
The question of whether to give drugs to "problem" children is profound: Are adults looking for a quick and easy way to control behavior? What are the long-term consequences of such early drug use? Many doctors are concerned about this.
Has society at large really weighed the dangers of fostering the belief in the young that there's a chemical solution to every personal problem?
Drug therapy is today's orthodoxy. But its use tends to cover up a greater need. Youngsters who "act out" really need families to apply more attention, love, and care. Such children need patience - and don't need to be a patient.
Often, appreciating and fostering a child's good qualities can bring the harmony and calmness that parents and teachers naturally seek.
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