My husband and I recently watched Summer Rental, a 1985 movie about a family on vacation. We noticed a stark difference between the behavior of the children in this older movie and the behavior of children in more recent productions. The children in “Summer Rental” were more realistic. They talked too much but could entertain themselves without electronics, complained, and argued with one another. Children in current family movies are often depicted as quiet, rational, and glued to devices. The difference between the parents was also drastic. The parents from the 80s movie were in control and demanded respect. Unfortunately, modern media often displays weak parents who care more about making their children happy than about raising productive, healthy adults. It was shocking to see what I observe in my practice daily displayed on the screen.
I often speak with pediatricians, their nurses, and other mental health professionals about the pattern we are all seeing of parents looking for a medical diagnosis instead of simply accepting their responsibility and the reality of parenting. Unfortunately, many factors play into the epidemic that Leonard Sax, MD refers to as “The Collapse of Parenting.”
One factor you may not be aware of is that drug companies are profiting from misrepresenting typical childlike behavior as a medical problem. For example, when I was in graduate school, a bipolar disorder diagnosis required episodes of depression and mania to last for days (at least). In the mid-1990s, a group of Harvard researchers successfully argued that bipolar disorder in children was different because the cycles lasted only minutes. According to their research, children who were sad one minute and happy the next were “abnormal,” which led to a fortyfold increase in the prescriptions of Resperdal and Seroquel. When the research team was investigated, it was determined they were paid $4 million by the companies that produced these drugs.
There is an epidemic of parents not owning up to the responsibility of raising children well. Instead of learning how to parent effectively and creating environments that set children up for success, some are looking for excuses, explanations, and accommodations. How do we fix this? We empower parents to control what they can. The research consistently reveals that food, sleep, and media significantly impact behavior. You have control of these things. Your children may not like the limits you set, but this is YOUR responsibility.
1. Feed them healthy foods. I always ask interns to notice any commonalities between problem behaviors and nutrition. After only a day or two of doing intakes, every intern has reported that children with the most significant behavior problems only eat highly processed foods full of carbohydrates. These foods spike blood sugar, causing irritability.
2. Ensure they get 10 to 12 hours of sleep each night. A lack of sleep creates symptoms consistent with ADHD and several other diagnoses. Keep bedrooms free of toys and electronics, create consistent bedtime routines, and use sound machines. If you have done everything you can to help your child sleep and nothing works, discuss it with your pediatrician.
3. Place strong limits on video games and handheld media. A growing body of evidence reveals how detrimental these devices are to brain development. Also, these devices limit social interactions and learning experiences. It is important for children to be bored, observe their environments, and communicate constantly with the people around them.