On any given day in affluent Virginia Beach, nearly 20% of the young and privileged are on Ritalin, many of them needlessly, says pediatric psychologist, Gretchen LeFever, Ph.D. Indeed, there has been an explosion of Ritalin use among children in the U.S., up from 900,000 users in 1990 to five million in 2000. Psychologists are pointing fingers at overly competitive parents, who will pay any price to secure advantages for their children.

LeFever's research, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that while 3% to 5% of U.S. elementary-school children have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, almost six times as many fifth-graders in Virginia Beach take medication for it, a number she says is typical in wealthy U.S. communities. Parents mm to Ritalin, she explains, for its ability to stimulate concentration, forcing children chemically to "pay attention." But there's another advantage, says Yale Professor Robert Sternberg. "Once kids are labeled learning disabled, there are so many benefits--extra help, extra time on tests such as the SAT--that people are fighting for the label."

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Not surprisingly, many professionals are outraged. Late last year, members of the Center for Science in the Public Interest beseeched Secretary Donna Shalala of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to intervene by encouraging the use of education-and discipline-based methods--rather than amphetamines--to correct behavior problems and motivate better performance. They also expressed concern with the side effects including stomachaches, insomnia and stunted growth, and with the discovery that Ritalin has caused cancerous liver tumors in laboratory mice.

But this hasn't stopped parents. University of Colorado philosophy Professor Claudia Mills, Ph.D., observes: "We give our children Ritalin in part because we cannot bear that they be below average; and we cannot bear that they not be above average."


Girls Make the Grade

Studies undertaken from the 1950s to the 1980s revealed that girls avoided success in school and at work for fear of social rejection. But, says Teri Quatman, Ph.D., the tables have now turned.

Quatman, a psychology professor at the University of Southern California, whose findings will be published in Sex Roles (Fall, 2000), launched a study to determine the self-esteem of girls and women today. She had 532 children ages 11 to 18 respond to questions from the Teen Apperception Table such as: Mark is a student in your class about as smart as you. A) How much would you want to be his friend? B) How well is he liked? "Contrary to our expectations, we found that adolescents perceived talented females quite favorably--more so, in fact, than equivalently high-achieving males," Quatman says, attributing the change to the political and cultural shifts of the past decade.

"It may seem that women have advanced at the expense of men," says Quatman, "but these things tend to normalize over time."

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