Medicating Our Children – Ritalin In Schools

Posted on January 14, 2014


The other night, for the first time, I heard a first hand account of a child for whom teachers and doctors (I’m not entirely sure doctors were involved, but other authorities were involved) had suggested drugs (I believe Ritalin) to help him focus in class.

I’m really curious to understand when and why it became acceptable to medicate children so that they don’t want to move around as much. Young children with high energy levels should not be seen as a negative and I don’t know why we would ever expect children to be able to focus on what we tell them to focus on when we tell them to focus on it. Even as an adult it’s difficult and counter-productive to try and force people to sit still and focus on something against their will for any duration of time (think of your last pointless training meeting).

It has been interesting to observe students ages 5 – 18 who spend their entire days doing more-or-less what ever they want to do. Two things are immediately clear:

  1. They do have a lot of energy. Frankly I’m jealous of their energy. After a day of doing all sorts of activities I’m wiped out but they seem to have endless reserves of energy. It seems like the most natural thing in the world that they would want to run around and play games at various times through out the day. I’d bet that it is actually a very healthy and optimal way for them to spend their time…
  2. None of the students have any trouble focusing for extended periods of time. They will walk away from an activity if they don’t think it’s worthwhile, but they clearly all have the ability to focus for an extended period of time. Really more often than not they are engaged in some activity that lasts as long or longer than most activities in the classroom.

I find it hard to justify and defend a status quo that results in the medication of young children who aren’t doing anything wrong, who aren’t causing any harm to others, but simply want the same autonomy that any adult would demand in life. As adults we have access to a great diversity of potential jobs that offer a wide array of environments. A high energy individual has many options available to them where their energy can be a great asset. Why would we try to medicate that natural energy and demeanor out of them so early on?