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By Beverly Pelfrey, RN
July 27, 2003

A True story: As charge nurse on a locked adolescent psychiatric unit, my responsibilities included insuring unit safety as well as screening incoming calls. So I kept a vigilant eye on the hallway as I answered the incessantly ringing phone. A woman’s frantic voice shrieked into my ear, “What do I do? He’s choking the cat and I can’t get him to stop!”

After referring the mother to more appropriate treatment for her little darling, I couldn’t help but consider how my parents would have handled the situation.

I was reared by conservative parents who were reared by conservative parents who lived in a conservative part of the country at a conservative time in our nation’s history. So my father took his paternal duties very seriously, perhaps to a fault. However, thanks to his vigilance, I never had to take Ritalin. That’s right. Never had it as a child and don’t need it as an adult. And it wasn’t because I was an acquiescent youngster. To hear mom tell it, I was quite a challenge.

What is the secret to my exceptional growth and development? Good parenting. From my earliest recollections, I knew that certain behaviors were allowed and others were not. My parents presented a united front and I learned better than to push the limits too far.

Mom enforced most of the daily disciplining until, at age 9, I was taller than she was. I soon discovered the gravity of those words, “Just wait till your father gets home, young lady.” If my mother found me strangling the cat or dog or whatever, she would have lectured me in a manner that could make gospel evangelists green with envy. Then, I would have spent a fearful afternoon in contemplation of my father’s verdict for cruelty to animals.

Now, parents are too busy or too tired to give their children proper nurturing. Somehow, somewhere, modern and post-modern they abdicated their own good judgment to the tyranny of popular psychology. Beguiled moms and dads have thrown the baby of authoritative, loving discipline out with the bathwater of authoritarian, loveless punishment.

Rejecting the extremes of past generations, most post-modern parents believe that any form of chastisement is intolerable. They “reason” with young Jimmy (pseudonym) as he throttles the poor cat. Years later they wring their hands, weeping into the TV cameras, “But he didn’t mean to kill anybody. He’s really a good boy.”

We need more parents like those espoused by Mr. Warwick Dyer, a British behavioral expert, who claims parents need to accept more blame for their children's "disorders.” According to an article on Independent.Co.UK, Mr. Dyer stated, “What is certainly clear is that a lot of symptoms ascribed to such disorders are in fact easily confused with basic behavioral problems that don't need to be treated with a drug.”

Mr. Dyer is referring to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), that favorite diagnosis of child and adolescent physicians. ADHD is the reason children whirl like dervishes, curse like sailors (my apologies to sailors who don’t swear), come to blows with their peers and teachers, and smash their belongings to bits. ADHD explains why a grown woman cowers in fear as her marauding child terrorizes the family pet and she calls the closest psych ward for help.

The drug of choice for treating the “disorder” is methylphenidate, more commonly known as Ritalin. Ritalin is an amphetamine with potency similar to cocaine and the mechanism of its effects are unknown. In fact, the medical community knows more about cocaine than it does about Ritalin. Nora Volkow, a psychiatrist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, stated, "Instead of being a less potent transport inhibitor than cocaine, methylphenidate was even more potent.” Yet physicians have prescribed it for their pediatric patients for the past forty years. It is estimated that four to six million children take Ritalin daily.

There is a new weapon in the battle for children’s minds. The pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilly, now manufactures Strattera, approved by the FDA in 2002. Touted as a class of ADHD treatment that works differently than other ADHD medications, Strattera is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. They are beginning to saturate the media with advertisements for the product. Of course it is available by prescription only (those guffaws you hear are the medication moguls on their way to the bank). Stay tuned for new discoveries of adverse side effects.

Meanwhile, adults drug their children rather than discipline them. Consider this:

"The most obvious reason millions of Americans, most of them children, are now taking Ritalin can be summarized in a single word that crops up everywhere in the dry-bones literature on ADD and its drug of choice: compliance. One day at a time, the drug continues to make children do what their parents and teachers either will not or cannot get them to do without it: Sit down, shut up, keep still, pay attention." (Source: Mary Eberstadt, "Why Ritalin Rules," Policy Review, April & May 1999, No. 94.)

How about my scheduling a month of intensive treatment for your tiny terror with the two “therapists” who helped shape my destiny? Come to think of it, I wouldn’t do that to my mom and dad.

© 2003 Beverly Pelfrey - All Rights Reserved

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Beverly Pelfrey uses her 42 years of experience as a female, 22 years of knowledge as a wife, 21 years of skill as a parent of three daughters, and 8 years of education, expertise and research as a registered nurse (specialty in psychiatric care) to hone her observations. Comments may be sent to








"The drug of
choice for treating
the “disorder” is methylphenidate,
more commonly
known as Ritalin.

Ritalin is an amphetamine with potency similar to cocaine and the mechanism of its
effects are
unknown. In
fact, the medical community knows
more about
cocaine than it
does about