ADHD Medication and We've Got Issues by Judith Warner

We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of MedicationI have pre-order a book that is due out tomorrow called We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication by Judith Warner.  You may remember this author.  She wrote the book, Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety.  In Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety she argued, among other things, that overambitious parenting was making us so anxious that we were medicating our kids unnecessarily with stimulants just so that their test scores improved.  She felt that this over ambitious parenting was making stay at home moms and working mom’s neurotic to the point of bad parenting.  I agreed with some of what she wrote in Perfect Madness but disagreed with a lot of the book. 

As a mother who has worked part-time since the birth or my kids, I relate to both stay at home moms and working moms.  Most of the stay at home moms that I know started working again as soon as their kids were in school and the excesses in terms of elaborate birthday parties that the author described were not anything that happened in my social circle.

I did agree with this author however, when she spoke about a kind of competition among parents to make certain that their children excelled at school and I agreed that there was an over zealous propensity on the part of current parents to have their children engaged in a variety of  'enrichment' activities.

The part of Perfect Madness that baffled me was this notion that parents would go to the extreme of medicating their kids to ensure a successful test score.  This was not anything that I had seen in my clinical practice or in my life as a mom.  Well in turns out that in her new book she agrees that this is, in fact, not happening and that parents are usually quite reluctant to medicate their children and that the children who are medicated genuinely need to be medicated. 

In an interview about the book with Barnes and Nobles critic, Bill Tipper, she says; "children with mental health issues aren’t exactly like children without them: their problems with focus or mood or making friends or learning aren’t the typical hiccups of difficulty that all children experience growing up or in school.  The talk about children and medication is really about criticizing today’s parents: (the idea that) children have problems because their parents have raised them badly; they end up on medication because their parents are drawn to “quick-fix” solutions. Once again, this has little to do about real parents and real children." 

She concludes that these children have real mental health problems that need to be addressed and treated and in a complete about face from her Perfect Madness position, she argues, that if anything, not enough kids are receiving treatment for their mental health problems.

Later in the interview she speaks about Gerald Klerman’s idea of “pharmacological Calvinism".  The sentiment that strong people tough it out, weak, self-indulgent people give in to seeking chemical salve for life’s blows.  The author reports that this notion persists today, the idea that we’ve become a medicated nation, unable to bear any sort of adversity.   She in her book Perfect Madness was one of the "Pharmacological Calvinist", and I am exited to read in this new book about how it was that she came to the exact opposite conclusion.

I have read several reviews on We've Got Issues.  The most interesting is by Allison Gopnic and can be found here: 

Allison argues that the author has once again over generalized and that the question of whether medication is appropriate or not has more to do with social context and less to do with if mental illness is 'real'.  I love this quote and it reminds me a little about what I wrote after seeing the movie, The Lightening Thief; "what counts as a problem depends on the context. When nobody read, dyslexia wasn't a problem. When most people had to hunt, a minor genetic variation in your ability to focus attention was hardly a problem, and may even have been an advantage. When most people have to make it through high school, the same variation can become a genuinely life-altering disease. To say this doesn't imply, as Warner seems to think, that these are made-up problems, rather than real neurological ones. But it does suggest that changing the social context in which children grow up can be as important as directly changing their brain chemistry."

Order the book We've Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication and let me know what you think.

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