October 2009

Reason #64 Not to Trust Your Child to Psychiatry

A new study reports what most psychiatric survivors and mental health critics have known for decades: children on neuroleptics (also labeled “antipsychotics”) gain weight at an alarming and dangerous rate.

Many children and adolescent pack on almost two pounds per week on drugs like Ability, Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa. The last two drugs are not approved for children. That’s right, the FDA has not approved them for children because they are known to elevate cholesterol and other blood fats to dangerous levels, which scientists know makes children more prone to heart problems later in life.

These drugs are some of the most toxic substances used by psychiatry. They are tranquilizers that are extremely sedating; they do their “work” by essentially shutting off the emotional center of the brain. They do not rewire or rebalance brain chemicals; any commercials or professional who tells you that is either ignorant or a big fat liar.

One of the ways children gain weight on these drugs is by disturbing normal digestion of sugars. Essentially, these drugs cause diabetes.

Just an aside: guess who makes money when the children develop diabetes?

Psychiatrists, along with the marketing departments of the drug companies, defend the use of these toxins by suggesting that these newer drugs are safer than the older anti-psychotics like Haldol and Mellaril. This is arguable. All of the newer anti-psychotics also cause permanent, debilitating neurological disorders like Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome and several dystonias.

Second, they suggest that the drugs can reduce severe psychiatric symptoms in troubled children. On the surface, this is true. When you drug a child with major tranquilizers to the point where their brain is essentially dimmed, of course you won’t see behavioral symptoms. But you could get the same effect with a baseball bat—with less damage to the brain!

Another problem with antipsychotics: the vast majority of adolescents and adults who take them HATE taking them. Children loathe the oppressive feeling, they hate being sedated, they can’t stand the side effects, and are often disturbed by the fundamental change in their personality that inevitably follows. Also, many adolescents and adults begin smoking–often chainsmoking–in order to counteract the sedating effects of the drugs. This helps explain the woeful compliance rate with neuroleptics.

The more important point is that there are far better, far more effective, far safer, far more humane methods and treatments for children than hardcore psychiatric drugs. But of course most psychiatrists would not admit this; a huge chunk of their business would evaporate if people knew about that. Now you know.

Baby Einstein Ain’t Rocket Science

For those of you who have not heard, Disney is offering refunds to parents who have purchased the Baby Einstein videos. Of course, this was not done willingly or even out of the goodness of Disney’s heart. They were threatened with a lawsuit by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, who cited studies connecting early childhood television watching with later attention problems.

I hope the refunds can help parents acquire something important, like books, puzzles, or a healthy snack.

I hope that parents begin to acknowledge how early childhood exposure to stimuli affects later sensitivity, comprehension and integration of stimuli. It isn’t rocket science, but some parents don’t get it. If you expose the developing brain to too much visual stimuli–especially highly engaging, long-lasting stimuli–the brain will become “addicted” to this type and intensity of stimuli. It will become the minimum threshold for achieving and maintaining the child’s attention. This spells disaster for the child when he or she is supposed to begin reading, listening to adults, or writing on a blank piece of paper. The duller stimuli simply cannot compete.

Same thing with video games. Leapfrogs. Computer games that teach reading and math. Children learned how to read and write and do arithmetic quite well without any of these accoutrements; why in the world would we think that children need them today?

The short answer is: children do not need them at all. What they need is a cardboard box, some dirt, a stick, a ball, pots and pans, pillows, and fresh air. Let them figure out what to do with it all; that will increase their intelligence far more than any videos or computer games ever could. It will also help your child’s brain develop the attention and concentration skills necessary to succeed in school and the workplace.

It’s “Dear Diary”, not “Dear Mom”!

Clients and other professionals ask me from time to time about children’s diaries and journals. Should parents consider privacy inviolable and the contents of a diary sacrosanct? Or rather, are parents entitled to discover their child’s secret thoughts?

The question, which I discuss more fully in Desperately Seeking Parents, does not allow as black and white an answer as other parenting challenges. But there are some guiding principles that I believe parents would be wise to consider.

Parents need to comprehend how keenly a child treasures her privacy. In fact, privacy could be subsumed under any of the Four Rewards that children seek: Trust, Respect, Freedom, and Privileges. Because so much of a child’s life is subject to adult scrutiny—from teachers, parents, coaches, friends’ parents—a child’s diary resembles an oasis of thought and feeling. It represents the one place the child can express thoughts and feelings undiluted by fear of adult interference or judgment.

Of course, these are the very thoughts and feelings some parents are so eager to plunder. What parent doesn’t want to know the inner workings of his child’s mind and heart? The problem is that your child expects that her diary will be private. This changes what she enters. Some of the thoughts expressed in diaries and journals are not accurate. Many children and adolescents “try on” thoughts and ideas in their private writings as if to examine them or achieve some sort of catharsis. For example: “I hate Ginny. The next time I see her, I’m going to shove her head down the toilet.” Maybe these are true feelings; more likely, they are hyperbolic reflections of a fleeting, half-baked feeling. Parents can get the wrong idea about their child.

Privacy is one of those things that parents should consider as both a right and a privilege. On the one hand, certainly privacies (such as going to the bathroom unattended) should be afforded your child except in the most extreme cases. On the other hand, higher levels of privacy must be earned. You wouldn’t let your early adolescent alone in her room with the door closed with a boy she has a crush on, would you? But after years of trustworthy behavior, sound judgment, and solid evidence of assertiveness, you might easily allow your daughter that privacy.

I advise parents to discuss the limitations of a diary when the child first receives it. The boundaries should be clearly stated to the child: as long as Mom and Dad can reasonably trust your safety, there will be no reason to intrude on the privacy of your diary or journal. However, if Mom and Dad perceive a threat to your safety, then they reserve the right to look at your diary in order to learn anything they can to help make you safe. Discuss what those specific safety “triggers” might be. Let them know that you have specific concerns on your radar screen. If you are a paranoid parent, admit it. Laugh at yourself before your child does!

Parents possess the right to some reconnaissance, but breaking this sacred boundary should be reserved for only the most critical moments and challenges, such as suicidality, significant drug and alcohol use, or involvement in dangerous relationships. Be assured, you will pay a penalty for breaking this boundary; the damage to your perceived trustworthiness will be considerable. If the penalty proves too steep for you, it would be wise to maintain your child’s privacy.

Desperately Seeking Parents

I realize I have been woefully absent for a week. Just rest assured, I have been spending my time efficiently, mostly completing my book, Desperately Seeking Parents. I hope I have it complete by the end of October and have a decision regarding publication by the end of this year.
I can’t wait to start getting it out there on talk radio, TV, internet and bookstores. In the meantime, I will attempt to maintain the blog twice per week: Mondays and Thursdays. There is a lot of good stuff to blog about: parenting advice, a constant flow of research to examine, and snippets of the book to tantalize my readers.
Until Thursday, have a great week!