By Jamie Wendland
"When I was a child, I thought as a child," is an old proverb which at one time was also the philosophy society lived by when rearing children. This was the golden rule practiced by parents, schools and child development experts in understanding that the childlike behavior of children was an intrinsic fact of life; they are not adults. They were not expected to think like adults, behave like adults nor exhibit rational, acceptable adult social skills, maturity or conduct-they were children and so they were allowed to think and behave like them.
That has all changed over the past thirty years, change accelerated at an alarming rate as we entered the twenty first century. It has become almost universally accepted by parents, schools, child psychologists and even law enforcement that children are, in fact, simply miniature adults and we demand of them to act accordingly. A child who is unable to conform to this new societal standard of acceptable adult behavior is immediately labeled "mentally ill," and is either punished, medicated or forced into psychological treatment.
A six year old who kissed a classmate was suspended from school and classified by the district a predator for "sex harassment." In Georgia, a female kindergarten student was handcuffed and later suspended for a childish temper tantrum. A similar 2012 incident involving a five year old Stockton, California boy resulted in the child's arrest and a charge of battery to an officer. The boy was then "transported to a hospital for further psychiatric evaluation," according to local NBC affiliate KCRA.
Virtually every aspect of childhood behavior and mischief has been criminalized using an adult standard, to such an extent that a Chicago thirteen year old now faces multiple adult felonies for a stray snowball.
Most often, however, common childlike behavior doesn't result in such dramatic overreaction. Instead, they're medicated. Childhood behavior and diverse personality traits result in diagnoses ranging from everything from Asperger's Syndrome to Personality Trait Disorder, and the actual figures of children being treated for these vary greatly depending upon the source. While undoubtedly some children do suffer the onset of mental illness at an early age, many if not most, it could be argued, are being treated solely for the disease of normal childhood behavior.
Modern society has made parenting and childhood nearly impossible. Overworked and overstressed parents pressure the schools for assistance, but the schools are overcrowded and overworked with the additional pressure of society's mad desire for every child to be a super achiever. Schools pawn childhood off to the police who, because they are not child psychologists, can only place childhood misbehavior and mischief into a context they understand-the adult concepts of enforcing law and order.
In the end, coping with childhood lands on the lap of medical professionals who deal with it as they are best educated to do-diagnose, treat and medicate something. Thus, childhood and all behaviors related to childhood are now treated as a disease.
Childhood isn't a disease, though, so medical science is placed in a position of developing a highly subjective and vague default diagnosis for the mental illness of immaturity. The symptoms required for a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD as it is commonly known, are as broadly defined as the name itself implies. Virtually any normal child behavior could be considered ADHD at some given moment.
Marie Hartnell-Walker, ED.D. has over thirty five years experience as a psychologist, family therapist and with parenting education. She's authored numerous pieces on psychology for Huffington Post, along with an ebook, and is a regular contributor to the highly regarded site Psych Central. In a 2006 article entitled; "How to Drive with Kids without Driving Yourself Crazy," she describes how common childhood traits can make traveling nearly unbearable;
"Kids have energy. Kids have short attention spans. Kids get wired. Kids---even the nicest sweetest kids---usually tussle with siblings. Kids don't like to be confined."
One could assume, as Dr. Hartnell-Walker is a psychologist and not a veterinarian, that the word 'kids' is referring to the normal behavior of children and not baby goats. Also put aside for a moment that all of the traits she lists as intrinsic to a child are exactly the same traits deemed inappropriate and abnormal in a twenty first century classroom. Instead, consider how her equally respected and qualified colleague Margarita Tarkatovsky, M.S., describes ADHD facts on the very same site;
"Its hallmark symptoms include hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. Children have difficulty concentrating, following instructions, sitting still and interacting with others."
In other words, virtually, all of the same behaviors Marie Hartnell-Walker, ED.D., classifies as normal, Ms. Tarkatovsky maintains with equal credibility are the symptoms of ADHD, but expressed with far more professional and diagnostic language.
Granted, some children legitimately do suffer from ADHD, and according to the CDC the figure is actually only around 5%. They go on to point out, however, that over 11% of all American children, and 20% of boys alone, are being treated for the condition. Depending upon the state, the figure is even higher. Over ten years, the number of American children being treated for ADHD is growing at a staggering pace of 48%.
The gap between legitimate, serious ADHD versus children being treated for it demonstrates just how much of birdshot diagnosis this is for any normal childhood behavior deemed inappropriate by adult standards. At some moment of any given day, any child can display the symptoms of ADHD.
Vague and broad spectrum medical diagnoses for normal, everyday human behavior aren't just confined to children, however. Over the past twenty years, professional organizations such as the Royal College of Psychiatry and American Psychology Association have attached a serious psychological disorder for every known personality trait or eccentricity known to man that may possibly be of annoyance to someone else.
You're that cranky old man down at Wal-Mart, or the political, overzealous young hipster just waiting for an argument with conservative Uncle Fred at the next family gathering--"Antisocial Personality Disorder."
Perhaps you're the guy who danced naked on the pool table at the office party, singing 'We Will Rock You." Well buster, you are not really the life of the party, after all-- "Histrionic Personality Disorder."
Perhaps you're the bragging windbag down at Norkies Tavern who hits on girls half your age like you really have any chance at all, and who I thought was just completely full of bullshit. I am so very sorry for laughing you off the barstool, knowing that you suffer- "Narcissistic Personality Disorder."
There are now so many diagnosable disorders for the natural, ordinary human condition and behavior, they fill volumes. While doctors, psychiatrists, parents, schools and law enforcement all play a definite destructive role in this, in the end, they are only a symptom, in and of themselves, of a much greater disease.
Americans are the most overmedicated society on earth because by and large, they're medicating just to survive Capitalism. Given this culture and modern conditions, one is more likely to be living out the Medicated Capitalist Zombie Apocalypse than the American dream.
Children come home, exasperated, from one overly structured environment to another, and simply want to let down their hair and be children. But parents are equally exasperated from often working two jobs, just trying to survive in an industrialized, modern society which makes it impossible to exist on a single income. Few parents are afforded the luxury of remaining home and the mobility of modern society necessitates limited, or no, local extended family support system, so parents wish Billy could just sit quietly and watch Spiderman.
Family doctors, child psychologists and psychiatrists are not going around knocking down the doors of schools, colleges and employers, shoving medication down everyone in sight; Americans are demanding it. The vast majority of working class America is overworked and underpaid, bogged down by student loan debt from an education that was supposed to lead straight to financial freedom but instead landed them at the temp service, groveling for whatever income they can.
Further manipulated by corporate interests, who have convinced them that consumerism is the path to true happiness, over fifty percent of Americans are now buried with credit card debt. So convinced by the delusion that good credit equals success, many parents probably spend more time worrying about their credit score than their child's report card. Survival in an economic Darwinist society takes energy-all of your energy.
Parents are so tired they can't cope with even the most fundamental of child misbehavior, so they beg the family doctor to medicate them into submission. To add further complication, the job market is now so cannibalistically competitive that even the slightest negative or eccentric personality trait leaves one at a disadvantage, so they seek to medicate their own personalities away, as well.
Legitimate mental illness is serious and obviously needs to be treated, preferably early. We need to work even harder to diagnose those who are potentially at risk to themselves and to the larger society, without resorting to a mass diagnosis of treatable childhood. Moreover, we need to fearlessly address head-on the conditions of our modern industrial and technological society that has made life so unbearable that the natural human condition must now be medicated.
Above all, we need to protect and comfort our children from today's adult world and make a conscious decision to end this medical war on childhood. Celebrate and cherish that these are children and not mini-adults. Parents and schools need to recognize that you just can't schedule or predict a child's daydreaming or mischief. We must recognize that law enforcement should only be a last resort, under very extreme circumstances. By all means, we must end the criminalization of childhood behavior and mischief.
By removing these expectations from them, children can be free to learn, to play and to squabble like kids again. Our entire adult society needs reflect on the beauty and innocence of childhood and collectively whisper a reminder; "When I was a child, I thought as a child."