Are we drugging our children too easily?

I’m absolutely horrified by the number of children now on severely mind-altering drugs. Did you know that the fastest growing market for both Ritalin and Prozac is pre-school aged children? Why are our children depressed? Why is nobody looking into the underlying causes before medicating? How can we possibly be diagnosing preschoolers with ADHD?  Here are, in my opinion, the extremely broad criteria for diagnosing a child with ADHD:

  • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
  • Often has trouble holding attention on tasks or play activities.
  • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
  • Often does not follow through on instructions
  • Often has trouble organizing tasks and activities.
  • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to do tasks that require mental effort over a long period of time (such as schoolwork or homework).
  • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities (e.g. school materials, pencils, books, tools).
  • Is often easily distracted Credit:
  • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet, or squirms in seat.
  • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
  • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is not appropriate.
  • Often unable to play or take part in leisure activities quietly.
  • Is often “on the go” acting as if “driven by a motor”.
  • Often talks excessively.
  • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
  • Often has trouble waiting his/her turn.
  • Often interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games)

Sound like any 3-5 year-olds you know? And is it any wonder that 4 times as many boys are prescribed Ritalin as girls?

In a quick-fix world we need to be careful about the messages we are giving to our children about what is normal and what is not.

It is not normal for a preschooler, or even one in early Primary school to be able to sit still for long periods of time and concentrate on things that they have absolutely no interest in. It is normal for kids to be enthusiastic and energetic and driven to fulfilling their own highest priorities (namely play).

I’m not saying that there are no kids with genuine disorders in their brain chemistry who may benefit from some assistance, but we have to exhaust all alternatives before reaching for pills. And that goes for us as adults too. We’re far too accustomed to grabbing an Aspirin instead of figuring out WHY we had a headache in the first place. Or heading for the tranquilizers before we’ll enter into the very real world of human emotion. Or glugging down the antacids instead of addressing our diets.

It is time to STOP.

Before you drug your children, investigate the side effects, dangers, and alternatives.

Some of the side effects for Ritalin include nervousness, insomnia, joint pains, fever, anorexia, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, headache, dyskinesia, drowsiness, increased blood pressure and pulse, rapid heart rate, angina, cardiac arrhythmias, abdominal pain, and psychosis.

Children have died.

Before deciding that your child is definitely one of the few who genuinely needs medication

Start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Is your child going through something upsetting emotionally (keep in mind that this could be something positive – a holiday, a new sibling)?
  • Is your child getting all his/her needs met?
  • Is your child getting enough Omega 3’s in his/her diet?
  • Have you tried cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates?
  • Is your child getting enough water every day?
  • Has your child been exposed to high levels of lead in his/her environment?
  • Does your child have undiagnosed allergies (dairy, soya, wheat, etc.)?
  • Is your child exposed to large amounts of food additives and excito-toxins such as MSG?
  • Is your child watching too much TV and/or spending too much time on video games (more than an hour a day)?
  • Is your child getting enough exercise in a day?
  • Is your child getting enough sleep?
  • Does your child have a boring teacher, or a teacher who cannot be bothered to find out the child’s real interests and speak in ways that the child can relate to?
  • Is your child, perhaps, just acting like a normal child of their age?

We’re talking about serious, scheduled drugs here – on the same level as Cocaine. You would not just give your child cocaine because someone with a white coat told you to. Please, ask questions, do some private research, question authority. There is absolutely no way that the number of kids now on Schedule 7 drugs really have a disorder. Think about it.

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Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha

Mia Von Scha, Transformational Coach, motivational speaker, children’s author, student to two Zen Masters (aka kids), avid cloud watcher and lover of life.

37 Responses

  1. Enjoyed reading this article. My son was put on Ritalin on the recommendations of "professionals" during primary school. I did research and took him to see various specialists. After seeing no results after 2 years and altering his diet. I'm left only with the guilt

  2. After 4 years of medicating my child due to the advice of numerous "professionals" we found he was completely misdiagnosed and as a result had developed anxiety, a sleep disorder, was underweight and behind in development for his age. We now have him on natural meds and we have our wonderful, healthy child back. Biggest lesson learnt…follow your instincts as a parent!

  3. Hi Tandi. I totally agree – I have no interest in parents feeling guilty for trying to help their kids. As I stated above "I’m not saying that there are no kids with genuine disorders in their brain chemistry who may benefit from some assistance, but we have to exhaust all alternatives before reaching for pills.' I have seen so many children placed on medication while continuing to bring lunchboxes packed with sweets, chips and chocolates to school every day. We simply need to have a broader approach and not a one-stop solution to all problems.

  4. We live in the 21st century. Would you tell a diabetic person to just cut sugar out of their diet and forego the drugs.? If drugs are available to help us survive in a society that is fast paced and demands that are ever increasing. I don't for a moment advocate that a schedule 6 brain altering drug , which Ritalin is, should be prescribed willy nilly by GPs for a
    condition diagnosed by a teacher (with no medical training).:ADHD is a real and very challenging condition.

    Ritalin is a fantastic drug that offers both children and adults
    suffering , and it is suffering, from this debilitating disorder a solace, a way to function. After the correct procedure of assessments by educational psychologists and psychiatrists a diagnosis can be made and drugs can be monitored and a safe dose can be taken with minimal side effects. In fact the side effects diminish over time. Without Ritalin the child at school is like driving on the highway through thick fog . The visibility is almost nothing but with Ritalin it is like the fog has been cleared and and you can see where you are going. And yes I do know what Ritalin can do to change a life for the positive. To bring order, focus, function, to your life. I have been on Xoncerta

  5. Hi Mia, can you assist with the diet in detail? You read so much about cut this out and they musy eat this etc…. I need help in looking at the ingredients on the food etc… please!!! We are struggling with our boy. He is going to Occupational Therapy, Speach Therapy and play Therapy… and I am trying his diet etc..

  6. My 10 year old son is all of the 9 bullet points above but I would never put him on a mind-altering drug such as Ritalin, I think it's for lazy parents! I believe these children will all be depressed as adults because they have not been allowed to just be kids, be free …

  7. This article just made me extremely angry. What parent should be placing their pre-schooler on a Ritalin / Concerta / Stratera etc anyway? Surely you start with diet, Omega's and a holistic approach first. Secondly, what parent places their child on drugs purely on the advice of a teacher? You go through a process first. You see a specialist – not just a GP – after looking at diet, exercise, lifestyle etc. Once having gone through the processes, it may then still be necessary to place your child on one of these drugs and then you do what is best for your child. Without feeling guilty about it. You may then see the most remarkable change in your child. All of a suddent their true potential may blossom. With the correct and supervised medication – and lifestyle changes their lives and yours may be so much happier. Don't then let those who sit on the other side of the fence let you think you are 'drugging' and destroying your child. Your child will not DIE. There are two very distinct sides – to medicate or not to and it all depends on the severity of the case and whether holistic approaches can work on each individual or not. It also boils down to pure and common sense. It is always better to try alternaties first, but if they do not work, the parent and child shuld not be made to feel like drug dealers or users because they have taken the medicated route. This article was very one sided.

  8. Finally, someone standing up against this!
    Has anyone ever done research on the Adults that used Ritalin as children? Well, I know two personally, now 30 years old. They are both addicted to drugs! They will tell you in their own words how their drug addiction started with Ritalin. This would be enough information for me to never use this method.
    There has been great success with Gymnastics and ADHD diagnosed children. Instead of using a drug, Gymnastics at least 3 times a week improves a child's concentration and focus. Discipline is learned in Gymnastics as well! Perhaps an article and research should be done on these types of remedies instead?

  9. I totally agree with this article, having founded and run a successful private school for the last 7 years, I am amazed at how quickly children are diagnosed and labelled.

    Children need to move more, bottom line. They need to be outdoors more and they need to be able to take risks and push their bodies. Growing up in the city is tough on children, they spend too much time indoors, in the car and have no real freedom to play unless in an enclosed environment. They need to get dirty, climb trees, look for bugs, ride bikes, be children and not mini adults.

    I moved out of Joburg at the end of 2013, I have 2 children and I have seen my children thrive in their new environment. We live in the bush, the children attend a private school who's focus is conservation and environmental awareness and the children spend a considerable amount of time outside the classroom in the bush learning their lessons.
    Out of school the kids are horseriding, cycling to their friends, searching for bugs, basically doing what children love to do. They watch TV less, rarely play on the iPad anymore and have grown physically and emotionally. Their immune systems have improved and they are rarely sick, they even comment when we visit the city that everybody looks sickly and miserable.

    I can only recommend that parents spend as much time as possible in nature with their children and give them the opportunity to explore.

    Nutrition is also a huge issue with children, we often had parents sneaking chocolates and sweets into their children's snack at our school even though we have a strong policy of no sweets, chips, chocolates, we don't even allow juice, only water and healthy snacks. One mom was putting smarties into her son's sandwich and telling him not to tell the teacher! What parents don't realize is that teachers then have to deal with sugared up children in the classroom and that's when the labelling starts.

    Check out this article from the Washington Post.

  10. I agree with Pat Pughe-Parry (comment below).
    You can't just list the criteria and claim they're too broad. It is a broad list of criteria, but someone in the diagnosis process – adult or child – has to be able to say "yes" to at least half that list in ALL aspects of their life for a period of at least 6 months before they can move forward with a diagnosis.
    And then you say: "Before you drug your children, investigate the side effects, dangers, and alternatives."
    Do you really think ANY parent who is medicating their child did not consider every other possible option and treatment before opting for medication.
    Don't you think they continue to research their child's condition and treatment constantly, second guessing whether or not they are doing right by their child – even when their child starts making progress at school and living an almost-normal childhood with invitations to parties for which they were previously snubbed!?!
    I find it more than a little offensive that you would equate a treatment plan with a cocaine habit.

  11. We live in a society in which we find "instant" solutions to almost any problem – medical or otherwise. I do believe that some kids (the real ADHD cases) need the prescribed medication and benefit from it. I respect that! However – I do believe that in many instances medication is not the solution as I do not believe the diagnosis was correct in the first place. I believe it would be beneficial to all if more attention was paid to understanding the very nature of some of the symptoms (like concentration ability) – remember – you can not fix that which you do not understand.

    Much can be done to improve anyone's ability to concentrate – without medication! Concentration is simply the ACTIVE FOCUS of all (or as many as possible at the time) SENSES on the subject or object being studied! Think about it. That is how information gets to the brain – through your senses! So the inability to concentrate means that one or more of your senses are acting up (difficult to control… maybe even completely out of control). But with that little bit of information you have the key… now investigate. Determine which senses are causing the problem and then solve the problem by eliminating what ever is causing the "distraction" or lack of control!

    Great article!

    For more information

  12. Hi Ashton would you please also send the information.I have the same problem and i kept telling the teacher at my child's school that he loses interest when it doesn't interest him and he is quick to do the stuff he loves,he zones out when he doesn't want to work and needs to be encouraged. My email add is, thanks again

  13. Candice Rich – from our experience with my son, I can tell you that he is funnier, has more whit and is even more bubbly than before – and he is HAPPY! Concerta has made a huge difference in his life, and he has thanked us time and time again for helping him (which has made me want to cry for not doing it sooner!). It was a very difficult decision to make, we tried various therapies and alternatives, but it had little effect – but seeing him THRIVE now is awesome! He sees the Doctor every term and his meds are monitored. He only has them from Monday to Friday and not on weekends or in the holidays. Healthy food choices etc still forms part of his daily routine, but more than anything, he is THRIVING now!

  14. I so agree with you. We have walked the same path. I find people's judgemental attitudes very hurtful. Undiagnosed and untreated ADHD can lead to all sorts of things that I wouldn't want to discuss publicly – although I will say that having been diagnosed only as an adult, I wish I had had some help earlier in life. Some people of the older generation especially don't accept or understand an ADHD diagnosis.

  15. I had the same thing with my daughter who needs to move while she learns. The school were not open to different styles of learning. I homeschool her now and she absorbs massive amounts of information while constantly on the go. I realise this would be difficult in a classroom situation, but she certainly has no need for meds.

  16. if I may ask Tamryn and Bilquees – since putting your children on meds – did their personalities "DIE"? My son is funny and witty and bubbly and i'm so scared that i'll kill that in him 🙁

  17. My son (8yrs old) has been diagnosed with Anxiety disorder. The anxiety presents itself with ADHD symptoms, however when he had a full assessment etc. done it showed that he's most certainly not ADHD. I honestly sometimes WISH that I could give him a wonder pill and just save him all the heartache of constantly being in trouble at school – it's the HARDEST thing ever to have to constantly hear that your son is in trouble for not being able to sit still and focus and honestly if I could give him a pill that would help that would be great. As a parent you only HOPE that you're doing the right thing and making the right choices for your child. So I don't judge people like Tamryn or Bilquees who have tried other avenues and have used medication as a last resort.

  18. Hi Ashton, i'm situated on the West Rand, so perhaps a bit far to attend your remedial classes, however please still send me your info / facebook. I would really love to see what it is that you do.
    I have an 8 year old son who is always in trouble for not focusing in class and it's come to the extent now where he's on the verge of failing English – simply because he doesn't focus enough. He's been tested by a Educational Psychologist who has run a number of assessments etc. Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fourth Edition (WISC-IV) U.K.
    – Bender Gestalt Test (Bender)
    – Cognitive Control Battery by Santostefano (CCB)
    – Incomplete Sentences
    – Drawing-of-a-Person (DAP)
    – Kinetic Family Drawing (KFD)3
    – Projection Media
    – Psychotherapeutic Games
    – Clinical Interview
    She eventually found that he suffers from anxiety and this projects as ADHD. There is not much that we can do except help him deal with his emotions etc. but obviously we can't be with him at school where he needs to deal with situations on his own. Unfortunately to spite teachers having the full report and assessments, they are really not sympathetic at all and just view him as a naughty/difficult kid!
    SO good to see that you and other people in the industry are finding ways to help children with difficulties other than mind altering drugs. Good on you!!!

  19. yes yes and yes! thanks for the article! I struggle through this every day – my son constantly gets ORANGE letters (breach of disciplinary code) from school because "he doesn't sit still in class" yes, I agree that it's a problem, but I just find that teachers have no patience with children who are more active than others and they tend to get frustrated when one child doesn't fall in line like the other children.

  20. I had a very respected GP wanting to give a pescription after 3 questions. Never mind the family history of heart problems.

  21. I can answer "YES" to almost all of the questions posted above in Mia's article, BUT our son is definitely not ADHD. He is GIFTED. Sometimes we need to look just a little bit further than a teacher or school psychologist / play therapists' suggestions. You just might find other "surprising answers" – like we did! (and no need for any medication – just appropriate stimulation).

  22. Exactly why I said that there are some children who will benefit, but not nearly the amount that are being medicated currently. I have personally worked with loads of parents who made the necessary dietary and other changes and they worked. Those kids would have been medicated if they had not known there were alternatives. Nobody is judging you – you need to do what is right for your child and if you have explored all avenues then you are certainly doing your best!

  23. I am with you. I tried all the methods and finally gave in to medication. My child is ADHD, sees the Neurologist every 6 months, goes to a remedial school and is THRIVING. Never before have I seem my little boy (10yrs) so happy and confident in himself. Each child and each parent to their own….don't point fingers…every case and every child is different. Best of luck

  24. I resisted for 3 years before putting my child on Concerta and when he started we saw the difference on day 1! He suddenly became a confident child with a blossoming personailty and an ability to learn!
    I made my child struggle unnecessarily for 3 years while we tried every other avenue.
    People judge me for medicating him, but I am doing what is best for him. We don't plan to keep him medicated forever, just long enough for him to learn the skills he needs to be able to cope with his ADHD in the long term. And even though he is medicated we still maintain the lifestyle changes we tried, the daily routines, the early bed times and the diet.
    We face daily struggles dealing with the side effects, but we deal them. Because its easy to point fingers and give advice without knowing all the facts. Try walking in his shoes.. Try putting up with the insults, ridicule, bullying from teachers and peers.

  25. This is so incredible and I am printing this and putting it up in my Educational Centre right now! I started an incredible Remedial Programme that encourages the learners to be in control of their ability to focus – DRUG FREE!!! I had a teacher recommend Ritalin for a Grade 1 boy, I assessed the child and was horrified that the teacher had scared the poor parents into believing that this 6 year old was terribly different and in need of drugs! He attended my sessions for a month and she noticed progress and thanked the parents for listening to her. Needless to say she was horrified when they told her it was the lessons he was attending and by no means the DRUGS, as he wasn't on anything!!! A grade one should be able to sit still for no longer than 17 minutes, in actual fact that is an adults concentration ability – and we expect kids to shut up and sit down!! ALSO – a little bit of positive reinforcement never goes unnoticed in a child's life – and it makes a difference!! There are options and great solutions out there parents – please don't opt for the drugs being the first option you try!! Thanks for a great article!

    1. My ex is munchester via proxy. My son was 8 years old and on Concerta 38mg. He was zoned out like a zombie, never ate food and was skin wrapped around bone. At 11 he was in induced coma for 12 days in 2019 for uncontrollable seizures. He is off the mind altering drugs except for epilepsy (no previous family history) and lives with me. When he goes to his mother, she still tries to give him Ritalin (how does she get scheduled 7 drugs)?

      Rather give your child up for adoption than giving them the lazy parent drugs.

  26. Sadly this good article is spoilt by the typical over reaction to Ritalin. Quite agree about the overdiagnosis and misdiagnosis. We require 6 different people who know the child/adult well to complete the Copeland (similar to Connors) questionnaire. It eliminates the extremes from teachers having a bad day / doesn't like the children, ditto parents and grandparents. ADHD needs a very careful diagnosis and then constant monitoring of the medication. Medication is only one (of 8 that we use) aspect of managing ADHD but none the less has its place. Parenting makes up 4 others with a moderate balanced diet and sensible exercise and other therapies. 4 ou of 5 ADHD children have at least one ADHD parent who is often undiagnosed and therefore struggles to manage their own ADHD. If you carefully analyse the research studies about food and supplements reported to "cure" ADHD you will find that each study has limitations that are not often disclosed except in the very fine print.

  27. Amen!! I have been fighting the prescription for 3 years now! This is a South African epedemic…..disgusting that we drug our children instead of getting to the root of the problem!!! I don't believe that every second child has a learning disability. I've spoken to foreigners about this and they are horrified to hear that it's such a trend in SA. Check diets! Stimulate muscle core etc. Drugging is the quick fix!!!

  28. I would love to know how parents get their kids on these Schedule 7 drugs without having to go through the correct channels? Our child was diagnosed with SPD and ADHD by three different therapists and after months of therapy we agreed to look into meds as he was not able to function in the school environment (small) like any other normal child and could only get that by having another final evaluation including another EEG to exclude other causes and to confirm the diagnosis. He is continued to be evaluated every six month to ensure the dose is correct and that it is still required. But then, maybe we chose the correct route as we were reluctant to go the meds route.

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