Home > Uncategorized > Legal Drugs in School: Medication Trumps Meditation When Time is Constant

Legal Drugs in School: Medication Trumps Meditation When Time is Constant

The Guardian published an article earlier this week profiling the long term effects of taking behavior modifying prescription drugs over time, using profiles of six US students as exemplars. Writers Sarah Bosely and Baptiste Lingel offer a statistical overview contrasting American children to their British counterparts at the beginning of their article, “Generation Meds: The us Children Who Grow up on Prescriptoin Drugs”:

According to America’s Centers for Disease Control, 11% of four- to 17-year-olds in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD, a label for those who are disruptive in class and unable to concentrate; just over 6% are taking medication…

In the UK, meanwhile, about 3% of children are diagnosed with ADHD; just 1% are on medication. American children can go through six or seven different drugs quite early in their lives; in the UK, children are usually sent for cognitive behaviour therapy first, in line with guidance from the National Institute forHealth and Care Excellence.

But as the authors note, in the US the use of these drugs is most prevalent among middle-class east coast children:

But the official figure hides huge variation across regions and class. Numbers are very high in the white, middle-class east coast population, says Ilina Singh, professor of neuroscience and society at Oxford University, while there is under-diagnosis in poor white populations and among ethnic minorities.

“In the middle-class, educated group in New York, you probably are seeing kids who are just under more academic pressure,” she says. “Parents will begin to look at psychiatric diagnosis and treatment with drugs as one option for making children perform better. You have parents saying, ‘My child must be on Ritalin because all the other children in the class are.’”

As one of the students profiled noted with a degree of irony, sales and exchanges of pills which have a profound impact on he well being of children are not punished by the law but the use of marijuana and alcohol was monitored closely and resulted in arrests.

The reliance on drug therapy and psychiatry— the medicalization of social adjustment problems that are a natural part of growing up— reinforces the notion that there is a “silver bullet” cure for everything. It also reinforces the notion that a child who matures intellectually at a slower rate than an age peer is somehow deficient. Both of these ideas are wrongheaded.

Mindfulness meditation is a proven means of developing self-awareness that could ultimately lead to impulse control. Unlike Ritalin, however, it requires no purchase of drugs and does not offer immediate change to ones behavior. It does, however, help a child develop self-control and self-awareness, two skills that will benefit them throughout their life. If schools prescribed meditation practices for students who are challenged by having short attention spans and a lack of impulse control it might preclude their lifetime need for prescription drugs.

Our grouping of children by age and the invidious comparisons that are part of our factor school model also contribute to a child’s sense of inadequacy and their parent’s sense of urgency to do everything possible to ensure that their child is “keeping up” with his or her classmates. Abandoning our factory model where time is a constant an learning is variable would go a long way toward reducing the stress to “keep up” with everyone else.

Both of these alternatives to medication require a shift in thinking… and that, alas, is a daunting challenge. But as Bernie Sanders notes frequently in his speeches, we DID elect an African American president and we HAVE accepted gay marriage as a legal right… we CAN change the thinking of people over time if we persist in showing what is fair and just and sensible. We may yet have a time when meditation is offered instead of medication… and learning is the constant and time is the variable.

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