Sunday, October 08, 2006

Difficult Parents


An editorial in the Washington Post about overmedicating children reminds me of a documentary I saw a decade or so ago.
But setting aside the children with legitimate mental illnesses who must have psychiatric medications to function normally, much of the increase in prescribing such medications to kids is due to the widespread use of psychiatric diagnoses to explain away the results of poor parenting practices. According to psychiatrist Jennifer Harris, quoted in the January/February issue of Psychotherapy Networker, "Many clinicians find it easier to tell parents their child has a brain-based disorder than to suggest parenting changes."
The documentary was about a "difficult child" whose parents had agreed to have hidden cameras placed in their house such that their interaction with their child could be monitored. I believe that the parents were also being given some coaching on how to be better parents, but in the scene I recall none of those lessons had held - a rather atrocious two-on-one verbal bullying of the child resulted in an outburst of bad behavior by the child. The voiceover then explained, rather than how bad parenting can trigger bad behavior, that it's "hard to be a parent for a difficult child". (I think it's probably harder to be the child of difficult parents.)
Parents need to be more careful with whom they entrust their child's mental health care. Doctors need to take the time to understand their pediatric patients better and have the courage to deliver the bad news that sometimes a child's disruptive, aggressive and defiant behavior is due to poor parenting, not to a chemical imbalance such as bipolar disorder or ADHD.
Sure, but as the author previously indicated, many parents will respond to such news by getting the "help they want" somewhere else - that is, a doctor or counselor who will blame the kid and, increasingly, recommend medication.

3 comments:

  1. Carefull Aaron, keep talking like that and someone will accuse you of pushing the "personal responsibility agenda" and expecting parents to act like adults. - CWD

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  2. Would I do something like that?

    Really.... Even before I became a parent, I suspected that a lot of the "problems with kids these days" are really problems with parents. And now that I am a parent, well, I have to say that I've been surprised by just how much personality seems to be present in a baby even at birth - the slate's not as blank as some philosophers had proposed. But nonetheless, I also think I was right - there's a lot of bad parenting out there. Bad, though, is more than "permissive" parenting. It encompasses power-tripping authoritarians as well - and they think they're acing like adults.

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  3. Wait--there's a child-care professional who is supposedly afraid to tell parents what they're doing wrong? Did this news report come out of BNN (Bizarro News Network)?

    There is a lot of bad parenting out there. There are also a lot of people who are rather overeager to insist that if their kid behaves well, it's entirely due to stellar parenting.

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