At the end of January, the New York Times ran an opinion piece called “Ritalin Gone Wrong”. The title has since been changed to something else. In it, a professor emeritus of psychology states that the reason why a child has ADHD is because of bad parenting. Obviously, this claim has led to outrage.
I first heard about this article when I noticed that The Coffee Klatch podcast had devoted an episode to a discussion about “Ritalin Gone Wrong”. That article was written by L. Alan Sroufe, who is an emeritus of psychology at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. The opinion piece was posted in the New York Times on January 29, 2012. It has since had the title changed to “Children’s A.D.D. Drugs Don’t Work Long – Term.”
In the article, L. Alan Sroufe says that the medications that are being prescribed for ADHD increase a person’s concentration in the short term. He states that these types of medications do not improve school achievement or reduce behavior problems in children in the long term. He also notes that these drugs do have side effects. He acknowledges that children who have ADHD have brains that function differently than the brains of their peers.
So far, what he is saying isn’t all that controversial. There has been an ongoing argument about the potential side effects of the drugs that are prescribed to kids who have ADHD. There have been studies that show that the brains of kids, and adults, who have ADHD are different than the brains of people who do not have ADHD. That part isn’t new.
The part of the article that is upsetting to parents of children who have ADHD, and to many psychologists, is the remarks made by L. Alan Sroufe about parenting. In short, what he is saying is that bad parenting is what causes a child to have ADHD. Specifically, he said:
“Behavior problems in children have many possible sources. Among them are family stresses like domestic violence, lack of social support from friends or relatives, chaotic living situations, including frequent moves, and, especially, patterns of parental intrusiveness that involve stimulation for which the baby is not prepared”.
He goes on to say:
“For example, a 6-month old baby is playing, and the parent picks it up quickly from behind and plunges it into the bath. Or a 3-year old is becoming frustrated in solving a problem, and a parent taunts or ridicules. Such practices excessively stimulate and also compromise the child’s developing capacity for self-regulation”.
In other words, what he is saying is that the reason why your child has ADHD is because you did something wrong. He is saying all parents of children who have ADHD are bad parents. He is saying that ADHD is caused by mistakes made by parents. At the same time, he seems to be telling parents that the medications they are giving their child to treat the symptoms of ADHD do not work. It is no wonder that his article has caused a controversy.
Image by jlynn11235 on Flickr