Washington — From 1987 to 1996, researchers are telling tell us, the number of children and adolescents taking prescribed psychiatric drugs has more than doubled. According to the infelicitously titled medical journal, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, doctors are prescribing Ritalin for attention deficit disorder as well as several antidepressants with growing frequency. Somewhat more surprisingly, they are prescribing for America’s youth anti-psychotics, which is to say, mood stabilizers for suppressing various manias and aggressions. You can be sure that the weekly news magazines and TV talk shows will be abounding with alarums about all this for weeks to come. Yet is it all that amazing?
If you were a young person today, would you not be a little blue after a day in the classroom? From all I can tell, the American classroom is a dreary place. Little history is taught and when it is the history is a tale of man’s inhumanity to man, or rather person’s inhumanity to person, or is it person’s inhumanity to minorities? At any rate, it is very depressing — bereft of drama or heroics. Equally depressing is the study of government (read oppression) and literature (read depravity). Then we move on to the really depressing stuff: sex-education, conflict resolution, problem-solving. I know the teachers have more esoteric terms for such studies, but the topics themselves are pretty gruesome.
Then there are the entertainments that our youth have to endure. It begins with popular music and such jarring stuff as rap, hip hop, and such vacuous figures as Eminem. Then there are the movies, full of idiot jokes about underpants and belly buttons and all the other aspects of scortatory sensation in these last hours of the sexual revolution, plus instructions on the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases and babies — the disadvantageous aspects of good sex. The movies also feature tremendous explosions across the screen, automobile chases, various slow-motion blood lettings. The youth of the land watch this stuff. Adult movie critics proclaim their dramatic grandeur. Those young people who rebel and defiantly reach for a good old book are dismissed as nerds or conservatives.
Frankly, it is my judgment that the docs who prescribe psychiatric medications to America’s youth are not only fine doctors. They are humanitarians. Now I would suggest they expand their targets for psychiatric medications to include adults, at least those adults who are addicted to popular culture.
I occasionally attend movies, and I can tell you that most of those in the audience should be heavily medicated. Just the other night I attended About Schmidt, a movie starring Jack Nicholson that was advertised as a movie that would make me laugh. It turned out to be a tedious regurgitation of all those novels beginning somewhere in the Nineteenth Century whose mission it was to lecture us on the mindlessness of middle-class life. Perhaps there is something to it. Perhaps middle-class life is mindless. All of the middle-class members of the audience sat in quiet reverence. I left halfway through. Had I been happily drugged I might have stayed. Nicholson appeared to be happily drugged.
Of course there are other reasons that our children and adolescents are in need of psychiatric medication. For one, their homes are often lonely places. No adult is home, not even a grandparent, occasionally not even a foreign-speaking attendant. The rat race that adults so eagerly leap into has left the children without companionship. Readily available divorce has also assisted in making the home a barren place for the young. There was a day when at least a grandparent might be found at home. Now even the grandparents are out of the house.
Now I may appear to be making light of the frivolousness of modern life, but I have given extended thought to why so many young people seem in need of Ritalin for attention deficit disorder (which is a real condition) and the likes of Prozac and other anti-depressants. Yet I am serious when I say I see a need for these medications. Young people increasingly grow up without the oversight of loving adults. Their lives are sedentary, spent in front of luminous screens, while their energies build and build. These conditions are not conducive to normal growth. A couple of centuries ago the children would be at home with adults and with household chores. The adolescents would be at work, for adolescence is a modern creation.
No change in the present condition of young people is likely as I see it. So let them take medications. We shall worry about the consequences later.
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