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M
ind Over Matter
 


A Cure for Terrible Twos: Shaping Society with Pharmaceuticals

© Barry Bittman MD

The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by Barry Bittman MD. View all columns in series
I suppose there are times when you're at your wit's end.

It's been no less than an exhausting and frustrating day at work. You walk in the door, and while taking off your coat, you notice your home not quite the way you left it 8 hours ago. Your afternoon sitter seems to be fleeing the scene (you don't blame her) as assorted crayons, toys and scattered pots and pans catch your eye - tell-tale signs of "terrible twos" and a mischievous action-packed day. There's no time to unwind or clean up now, as you begin preparing dinner that's already behind schedule. Then, like radar, he senses you're home.

Suddenly you're pounced upon by a 35 lb. ball of energy who just emerged from a recharging nap. And all he wants to do is play and guard your absolutely undivided attention until he's out of steam again - though it might take 'til midnight.

Even at 2, he knows how to pull your strings. Upon sensing your slightest divergence from him as your sole focus, the noise and chaos only a 2-year-old can muster begins to rapidly and progressively accelerate.

As the tension builds, your temples tighten to a dull aching throb and your fuse rapidly shortens. Yet rather than exploding or coming apart at the seams, you take a deep breath and proceed to the medicine cabinet. Yet it's not Tylenol you're after - it's an antidepressant. You remove a pill from the childproof container, fill a glass with water, sit down on your bed and place the pill - in your child's mouth!

While you probably related to this story initially, the surprise twist at the end isn't a product of fiction. According to a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), there is a shocking rise in the use of stimulants, Ritalin, antidepressants and other antipsychotic drugs in 2- to 4-year-olds. According to Julie Magno Zito, University of Maryland pharmacologist, and the study's principal investigator, these findings aren't altogether surprising. An article published in 1994 cited by the investigators disclosed 3000 Prozac prescriptions for children under the age of 1.

Frankly I'm not surprised, yet I am disgusted.

As a neurologist, I'm having great difficulty grasping the medical rationale behind these prescriptions. Let's take a moment to focus on Attention Deficit Disorder. Are not all toddlers poorly focused and distractible? Doesn't every toddler have a short attention span? Isn't evolving sensory input and recognition likely to overwhelm any child? Isn't this "normal" behavior?

If you don't agree, just watch any 1-2-year-old walking down the street. That child sees every furrow in the sidewalk, every weed growing through the cracks, everything and I mean "everything" that moves including ants, bugs, leaves and the like. What I'm describing is no less than the magic of childhood¾ to be fully aware, carefree and so open to all that exists.

I've also observed children who have the ability to read by the age of 3. Such precocious feats often convince parents they're blessed with a budding genius. All signs point in that direction especially when the supposed prodigy is compared with other children in kindergarten and first grade. Yet by age 7, many of these kids seem to settle into mediocrity¾ an enormous letdown for proud parents. Some actually receive neurological consultations to determine the medical basis for such a performance decline. The results, however, are often not what the parents want to hear. Simply stated, the other children caught up.

So if a toddler can't sit still long enough to learn the alphabet or to read, should we place him/her on Ritalin because we expect more? Should we prescribe antidepressants for 3-year-olds who demonstrate attention-getting behaviors like acting up, being uncooperative or pouting? Should we attempt to shape a child's behavior with drugs because we don't have time for proper parenting?

If you've answered "yes" to any of the above questions, I can tell you where the problem lies, and it's not with your child. It's time we as a society realize that children are simply children. They need abundant attention, nurturing and love even when it's inconvenient for us. While rare exceptions do exist, drug therapy used to control behavior in toddlers is a poor reflection on our society and the medical profession.

To simplify matters greatly, consider the following: Childhood is special. Children are gifts from God. We are responsible. Next time your 2-year old acts up, try a hug instead of a drug - Mind Over Matter!

© 2000 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, inventor and researcher. He is the CEO and Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, 18201 Conneaut Lake Road in Meadville, phone (814) 724-1765, fax (814) 333-8662, www.mind-body.org.

Contact Dr. Bittman

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About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a comprehensive, interdisciplinary outpatient medical facility in Meadville, PA., Dr. Bittman has pioneered a new paradigm for treating the “whole person.” Based upon extensive......more
 
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