There is an epidemic of hypochondria sweeping the nation. Perfectly healthy schoolboys are being pulled out of classrooms, subjected to a barrage of tests, and having medications shoved down their throats, whether they like it or not.
I should know. I was one of them.
I don’t remember who got the ball rolling. My sister has said it was my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Mackey, who first opined that I was more hyperactive and distractible than any of the other kids in my class and started me and my family on that long, long journey, bouncing from counselor to psychologist to psychiatrist like Tinkers to Evers to Chance. To this day she remains the most likely candidate – but how can I say for sure? I wasn’t older than six; my priorities consisted of pretending to take spelling tests seriously and not static-shocking myself after going down the playground slide. All I can remember beyond any doubt is that, for a time in elementary school, my family talked to a lot of nearsighted men in pressed dress shirts, and soon I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder. After the diagnosis, my mother brought home a small bottle of medicine. CONCERTA was printed along the side of it in small black letters, and I was instructed to take two pills every morning before I headed out to school.
It was awful.
First, you must understand a few key points – chief among them being that I was given no choice in the matter. I had too much energy for a 64-year-old kindergarten teacher to handle, so off to the counselor I went. It was my word against hers, and she won out. It was the same with the Concerta – if I didn’t like the side effects of 108 milligrams of methylphenidate being crammed down my throat every morning, I could shove it, lest a teacher come back with a less-than-favorable report of my conduct in the classroom. The drugs left me in a state close to something you’d see in a Romero zombie – on an ordinary school day, you could find me shambling around, my sentences slow and unfocused, almost in a dream-like state until something or someone snapped me out of it. It was years before I mustered up the courage to stop taking them.
I was not alone in this. Diagnoses of ADHD are on the rise, with young boys being diagnosed at over twice the rate of young girls. The controversies inherent in this are many – primary school lessons are often dictated rather than hands-on and therefore favor girls over boys, who, as a result, may become bored and find it difficult to focus. In turn, they are referred to a psychiatrist, who is often paid only after a diagnosis is made, and will go home with empty pockets should they decide there is nothing wrong with their patient. Supplying that psychiatrist is a pharmaceutical company, which is forever cursed to mind its bottom line, and puts out drugs like Concerta to help them do so.
So why do we do this? Why is the American school system so complicit in slapping diagnoses on perfectly healthy boys, parading them in front of psychiatrist after psychiatrist, and then, when the damage is done – leave it to the parents to strip them of all agency, shove pills down their throat (whether they like it or not), and declare the mission accomplished when the child is close to sedated?
There has to be a better way.
There is a better way.
Understand this: I am by no means saying that young boys need no guidance, or that they would be cherubs if only the world would stand back. It would be foolish of us to deny their inherent aggression and near-boundless energy – when left unchecked, they can be violent and ruthless little things, pint-sized destroyers of worlds. I am only saying that, when channeled properly, this aggression and energy can lead to amazing things. So often we think of aggression in negative terms – we associate it with violence and criminals, of those unfit for a place in an orderly society. When we do this, we forget that it was not meekness that charted the lands and oceans, that brought dictators to their knees, or that drove the genius of invention. By effectively tranquilizing our young boys, we are forfeiting one of the greatest resources we possess.
But instead of standing idly by as this happens, we can pressure the school systems to do something about this. You can lobby your local officials for more rigorous exercise programs, increased recess times, and more hands-on teaching for boys. I have no doubt that if we can change our educational models to adapt to these boys and to harness and direct their aggression, we will be astounded at what they can accomplish. And if you must medicate your children – why not give them a say in it? Why not thoroughly educate them on the benefits and the side effects inherent in such a treatment plan, and let them decide for themselves whether it is something they would want to subject themselves to, in lieu of an alternative? Why not ensure that a proper dosing regimen is followed, instead of giving them doses that would be fit to tranquilize a horse right off the bat? Both your child and their classroom must mold to each other if a teacher is to have a hope of success – but if institutionalization and bureaucracy have hardened the classroom into a hunk of granite, what hope does any child have but to be crushed against it?