By Eben Carle, published on May 1, 2000 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016
MENTAL HEALTHADHD For Sale
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."
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."