Kids don’t need pills, they need parenting

The expansion of the diagnosis of ADHD among children is driven not by a hitherto unknown medical condition, but the cultural redefinition of the problems of childhood

Share

Why am I not surprised by the latest statistics showing a more than 50 per cent rise in NHS prescriptions of drugs to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) over the past six years? Because society has become increasingly drawn towards using medication as a substitute for authoritative teaching and child-rearing. In fact, the diagnosis of ADHD is so vague and flexible that it’s a wonder the number of Ritalin tablets being dished out is not going up even faster.

What is driving the steady expansion of the diagnosis of ADHD among children is not the discovery of a hitherto unknown medical condition, but the cultural redefinition of some of the normal problems of childhood. Virtually every aspect of a child’s behaviour can now be diagnosed as a medical issue.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has argued that doctors should evaluate children from age four onwards for signs such as fidgeting, excessive talking, reluctance to concentrate and abandoning homework or chores. Apparently such things are symptoms of ADHD. Indeed, according to these experts, ADHD is characterised by many of the traits that would, in the absence of a medical definition, be interpreted as altogether normal bad behaviour: inability to concentrate, lack of application, unruliness.

Although most sensible people will be appalled by the continuous increase in the diagnosis of ADHD – now applied to almost one in five American boys of high-school age – it is likely that the medicalisation of childhood will continue to gain institutional support, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The main reason why children’s behaviour has become a target for pharmacological intervention is the difficulty that adults have in exercising authority over the lives of young people. Parents have always found it tricky to deal with their toddler’s defiance or their adolescent’s rebellion. Today, however, these age-old problems have become far more difficult to manage, because of the tendency to devalue adult and parental authority. Some parents, embarrassed by their difficulties in socialising their offspring, are relieved to be informed that the problem they face is a medical one.

Within schools, there is also a noticeable demand for a medical diagnosis for the naughty child. Tackling unruly classroom behaviour through popping a pill is an option that some institutions prefer to the exercise of authoritative teaching. Hence the evidence, in recent years, of parents being given an ultimatum by their children’s school – either start giving the child Ritalin or take them elsewhere.

The reliance on medicine to tackle the problem of socialisation has led to an ADHD pandemic. Yet what kids need from adults is not a diagnosis but guidance, inspiration and understanding.

Frank Furedi is a professor of sociology and the author of ‘Therapy Culture: Cultivating Vulnerability in an Uncertain Age’

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz