A conspiracy against boyish boys...
When on earth will we stop drugging young boys??? Here's an opinion piece by Libby Purves from the London Times.
WE LOOK BACK in patronising horror at the way previous generations treated children. We shake our heads at the misguided ways of our ancestors: babies swaddled and hung on hooks, children of all ages whipped to drive out original sin. We are horrified by tales of chimney-boys and skivvies, but equally by the abuses of richer children: beatings, the backboard, Tom Brown roasted over a fire by Flashman. Looking back, we grow smug. Look at us with our caning ban and our Children Act and our anti-bullying helplines! Aren’t we wonderful?
Yet sometimes I wonder whether future generations may not look back at our habits and shudder in their turn. One of them in particular grates on me: it is reported that prescriptions of the drug Methylphenidate — commonly sold as Ritalin — have risen sharply in a decade. Last year in England there were 359,000, the vast majority to children under 16. This is a mind-altering drug, described by its most bitter opponents as “ prescription crack”; in the United States 6 per cent of all children take it. Here it is less than 1 per cent, but rising fast: for this is the cure-all for the fairly newly defined condition of “ADHD” — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The amphetamine-based drug is claimed by its many adherents to improve concentration and calm children’s behaviour. Parents who use it are violently defensive of their decision. The ADHD lobby has claimed, controversially, that one in twenty children today suffers such a behavioural “disorder”. Yet it is routinely prescribed to children whose age or circumstances might just as easily explain their erratic behaviour.
In the US babies have been given the drug: here, it is more likely to be administered to a nursery or school-age child who is not interested in what his teacher says and disrupts both class and home with destructive boisterousness.
I say “his” for good reason. Most children diagnosed with ADHD are boys. There is no hard clinical diagnosis or medical test for the condition; neurological theories contradict one another or fade under close examination. So it is generally diagnosed on the basis of mere behaviour — restlessness, fidgeting, outbursts of temper, unwillingness to take instructions or concentrate (which means failure to concentrate on what adults and the national curriculum want you to concentrate on). Indeed, the more descriptions of the symptoms you read the more images swim into your head: Alastair Campbell, Piers Morgan, Sir Alan Sugar, Mark Twain, Horatio Nelson, Thomas Edison . . . It is hard not to feel an uneasy suspicion that this is a conspiracy against boyish boys. In the heavily feminised, mimsy tick-box culture and educational system that now runs children’s lives, with fathers often working for long hours or absent altogether, the very nature of boyhood attracts disapproval. Or the very nature of childhood, indeed: one woman interviewed about the marvels of Ritalin complained that before it her three-year-old was always asking questions, and going on to another as soon as one was answered, which drove her mad. Well, it drives us all mad: “Why is the moon? Can sheep fly?” But if we are wise, we rejoice in it.