cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by stephanski: http://flickr.com/photos/stephanski/6749689975/

This post stems from a personal experience and is NOT a criticism of parenting but merely a way to express my concern for the structural and societal pressures many North American parents face.  Medications are a necessity for some children and this is not meant to be the focus of this conversation.  As a society, I believe we need to better support families so there are less pressures to spend time away from our kids.  By supporting parents better as a North American society, I wonder what impact that would have on our kids?

I recently read an article from Psychology Today, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” , and I found myself nodding my head in agreement at the start and then becoming frustrated as I continued to read.  In the article, the author states that 9%* of school aged children are diagnosed with (and medicated for) ADHD while in France, this number is 0.5%. I appreciated the section that focused on societal issues that stated,

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.

Although there are health disorders and disabilities that are very real and require significant medical support (as well as support and care for families), I often think that the culture and structures of North American society leads to a variety of disorders in our children. I was thinking that this article might support my thoughts and answer some questions.  The author briefly mentioned that parents and society play a key role in child development by providing key structures (ie. meal times).  Then, it took a concerning turn that aligned with much of the dialogue that occurs in schools and households in North America when it stated,

French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months…  But French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

I think the article missed the key point here.  When family time is a priority, we see less children experiencing difficulties. Structure is important but it is not about spanking nor is it about “crying it out” methods.

In our North American society, with a high cost of living and little support, parents often are both forced to work.  Daycare is a booming industry.  Meals can be a series of snacks on the run. Parents who  make a decision (and have the financial ability) to not work when their kids are young state they are “JUST a stay at home mom/dad”.  Families are pressured to have their kids “kindergarten-ready” (whatever that means) to do well in school.  Parents pressure each other to get their kids registered in the “best” pre-schools and in the “top” organized activities. We pressure each other to get our kids involved with other groups of kids so they can be “socialized”.  We apply “programs” from best-selling authors and experts that disagree with each other.  When we do all this, we give up the opportunity to just BE with our kids.  We give up the chance for our kids to be with us and learn from us.

Being a relatively new father as well as an educator, I have read a few books and watched a few videos on the topic of child development and early learning.  I enjoy the bigger ideas in books like Raffi Cavoukian’s “Child Honouring” and Gordon Neufeld’s “Hold on to Your Kids” but I struggle with the books and videos that teach parents and educators to rely on a program or a standardized approach.  We often try to simplify parenting and education to a solution of a series of checklists and strategies that can be boxed and sold.  This minimizes the needed effort for us as parents.  What we really need is for us, and our society, to prioritize our time and relationships with our kids… we need to be truly present in their lives. Ironically, if we did this, we would likely need significantly less programs, books, videos, and medications. As stated, this is a result of deep societal issue in which we are so rushed in our daily lives that we are often forced or choose to have other adults (and often peers) raise our kids.

Although I appreciate articles that encourage our society to move away from medication as a fix, I fear that the underlying message in the Psychology Today article becomes a checklist of things to do TO kids rather than making family time a priority so that we can do more WITH kids.  We need a holistic approach that places children and family at the centre of what we do – a society that values family and makes raising our children our main purpose.

It is no secret that I struggle with work-family-friends balance.  However, I wonder if our society supported and placed family and children at the forefront, would our kids better develop the social-emotional skills required to handle the endless challenges they face?

I understand that there are medical conditions that are very real.  We need to support parents and families.  Our kids need us.  They do n0t always need experts**.  They do not always need medications**.  They need caring, attached adults.

 

**Note: I do understand there are disabilities and challenges that are very real and require medical attention, medication and expertise.  This is not a black and white topic.  The challenge is knowing when it is a medical issue.  Parents of children with disabilities need societal support instead of judgment.  Whether it is a medical or social concern, our kids need us parents more than ever. 

*ADHD in Canada is estimated to be 3-5% (Mental Health Canada).

As always, I would appreciate your help, thoughts and feedback on this topic.