VSL:SCIENCE // The best way to deal with overmedicated kids

Diagnoses of ADHD and depression have skyrocketed over the past decade. Pediatric bipolar disorder is up a whopping 4,000 percent. And prescription rates have jumped accordingly: 5 million American children (6.6 percent of them) now take psychotropic drugs. But according to Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan, many of them needed neither diagnosis nor drugs.

Kagan argues that the rise in diagnoses reflects an ugly collision among increasingly squishy parenting (which creates disruptive or depressed children), immense social and economic pressures to have kids perform well, and increasingly sloppy diagnostic practices that “medicalize” every behavioral problem. Too often, he says, we ignore problems in a child’s environment and substitute medications for the structure, discipline, and nurturing he or she needs. Change the environment, he says, and you will usually change the child. Sadly, in the age of Prozac, Ritalin, and Risperdal, such change is rarely attempted.

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