Are we teaching our children to depend on drugs?

2014-04-02 08:29

It may all begin with some paracetamol to help ease your baby’s teething pain, or innocent looking homeopathic pills to calm a distressed toddler, who has bruised himself. However, soon you notice your teen is swallowing a cocktail of drugs to assist with concentration, clear his acne, deal with depression, and these drugs combined with other medications which may be necessary for allergies, asthma and/or other ailments leaves your child a walking junkie.

He cannot stop the medications without severe withdrawals and side effects, but scariest of all is that psychologically he needs the pills to feel good about himself. As stress at school, and in his private life increases, and eager to be an adult, he may also add alcohol, marijuana and other drugs to his mélange, with dire consequences. 

Most of us worry about the impact drugs such as cocaine and heroin may have on our teens, but fail to research how the combination of prescribed drugs, impacts a growing body and brain. Somehow, we seem to be less concerned about prescribed medication, believing for example, that Ritalin can assist a child to concentrate, even if they do not have ADHD.

Dr Conners a psychologist and professor at Duke University noted in a talk he gave in December 2013, that the number of children and teens on medication for ADHD in the USA has increased to "3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.” " 

One in 10 Americans take antidepressants. Dr Ramin Mojtabai,an associate professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore warns that, "Both consumers and prescribers of antidepressants should be more knowledgeable about the indications (or symptoms) that antidepressants are better for.” His study published in April 2013, “Found that nearly two-thirds of a sample of more than 5,000 patients who had been given a diagnosis of depression within the previous 12 months did not meet the criteria for major depressive episode as described by the psychiatrists’ bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.”

While our intention as parents is to help our children and give them the best opportunities in life, we may also unconsciously be teaching them to reach for a pill or drink to cope with stressors. They are watching us, and if they see us manage our day with drugs or look for a reason to have a drink, it soon becomes a natural way of living.

So how do we teach our children to survive in a highly competitive, idealistic, stressful world without medicating themselves? We need to slow everything down, as Eckhart Tolle, a well-known author advises: “In today's rush we all think too much - seek too much - want too much - and forget about the joy of just being.” Focus on what is really important in life.

  • Our children should know that they are awesome just the way they are. They do not have to be ‘perfect,’ or good at everything to be valuable and important. Finding their passion should be their main goal.
  • Seek help and support when we or our children need it. There are marvellous therapists, mentors, teachers and healers in the world who can help with stress, concentration, extra lessons and anything else we may need. It is not a sign of weakness to ask for help. As Dr Gold author of ‘Keeping your child in mind,’ notes: “Equally important, in medicating the symptom away, the underlying issues in relationships are not addressed. Medication can have the effect of silencing everyone.”
  •  Stress is a perception, as what is stressful for one person, may not be perceived as stressful to someone else. If we find our teens are constantly stressed, we need to find creative ways of helping them cope. This could be through simplifying life, meditating, pursuing artistic endeavours, or engaging in physical activities, as Hippocrates said “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
  • Teach and practice tolerance and acceptance. What makes our world interesting is the diversity of people on the planet. We need to worry less about how we can be like others. Rather we should embrace our uniqueness and the individuality of others.  
  •  Practice stilling the mind or ‘mindfulness,’ and teach our teens to do the same. Be consciously present in the moment, neither worrying about what has happened nor what will happen, rather, focus on what is happening. As Abraham Maslow wisely advises, “I can feel guilty about the past, apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” Concentrate on slowing our breathing and our thoughts, striving to turn negative thoughts into positive actions.    
  • Schedule time to connect with our children, acknowledging their fears and concerns and offering support, rather than additional criticism and pressure.
  •  Practice, and teach resilience- the ability to rise above difficult situations. Embrace failure and loss as opportunities, optimistically moving forward. Endeavour to continue, using creative problem solving techniques to do things differently. “When families rely primarily on medication, children do not have the opportunity to develop coping skills to adapt to new situations and frustrations.” Dr Gold, paediatrician and author. 

Medical science has provided many people with hope and a new lease on life, in the past 100 years, and medication is necessary in severe cases, on a spectrum of disorders and illnesses. I am not anti -medication, just very concerned about how dependent we have become on pills to fix ourselves and our children, forgetting that many of these drugs have long term negative effects.

We need to empower ourselves and our children by investigating prescription drugs thoroughly, and seek alternative ways of dealing with difficulties. This may include putting pressure on the powers that be to create more flexible educational environments, where different types of learners can thrive, rather than trying to mould children into idyllic students.

Taking any child off medication should only be done under the supervision of a physician.  

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