Category Archives: parenting

Body Impolitic’s 2015 Guide to Sane Holidays

Laurie and Debbie say:

This annual list is (mostly) for folks who celebrate the upcoming holidays, and are fortunate enough to have people and resources to celebrate with; if you don’t fit that group, skip to the bottom. If you do fit, then even if your family are your favorite people and you look forward all year to the holidays, you still may find useful hints here.

1 – You have a right to enjoy things in your own way. To the extent possible, do as much or as little holiday stuff as you want; it’s supposed to be a celebration, not an obligation.

2 – Spend time with people who know you’re awesome. If you must spend time with people who are toxic, remind yourself three times (out loud) in your last alone moments before seeing them that they are toxic. Then do something really nice for yourself the minute you are out of their presence. (If they are not just toxic but abusive, here’s some excellent advice.)

3 – Eat what you enjoy and don’t eat what you don’t enjoy. Desserts are not sinful, they’re just desserts, and relatives who push you to eat (or not to eat) are not in charge of your choices. If you have a history of eating disorders, or currently struggle with them, this may help.

4 – Wear what you think you look terrific in; accept compliments and ignore digs about your clothes.

5 – Plan your responses to inevitable comments beforehand. Try not to spend energy on the digs, because they probably aren’t going to stop. For example, if you know that your sister is going to tell you, “for your own good,” how unbecoming your hairstyle is, be prepared to say, “I appreciate your concern. Excuse me, I really want to catch up with Uncle Harry.”

6 – If you think kids are fun, they can be a great escape from the adult follies. If kids drive you crazy, keep your distance when you can, and try to keep your patience otherwise: they didn’t overstimulate themselves with sugar and toys.

7 – If you have enough to give to someone who has less, do it. If you know someone who is having a crappy holiday, even if you are too, taking a moment to do something for them that they will enjoy might make you feel better, if it feels right to you.

8 – If you hate the holidays, or they make you sad, you’re not alone. Participate as little as possible. They’ll be over soon. If you’re wishing you had someone (someone particular or folks in general) to spend the holidays with, treat yourself with special care. If you’re a volunteering type, that can work, but so can staying at home and taking a bubble bath.

9 – Be effusive about every gift you get; then be discreetly rude about the awful ones later to your friends. If they’re really awful, throw them off a bridge in the middle of the night.

If you are looking for interesting reading, here’s the 2015 version of the Best Culture Writing list we linked to last year, with lots of chewy, thoughtful essays on progressive topics. And here’s Longread’s best of 2015, another great resource.

If these aren’t your holidays, have a great Chinese meal and enjoy the movie!

We’ll be back in the beginning of the New Year.

Incomprehensibly Irresponsible: Brain Drugs and Babies

Laurie and Debbie say:

In 2008, we wrote “The Medicalization of Human Variety,” about how concerned we (and much of the medical establishment) were about the increase in prescribing Ritalin and other psychoactive drugs to schoolchildren.  We are shocked and saddened to find out how much worse things have gotten in the last seven years.

risperdal-600

Alan Schwarz, writing in the New York Times, details much nastier drugs than Ritalin, such as the antipsychotic risperidone (Risperdal) given to babies and toddlers. Schwarz reports “almost 20,000” such prescriptions were written in 2014,  a 50% jump from 2013. Prozac prescriptions for children that young are rising almost as fast.

We can’t even count the number of ways that this is horrible.

Brain science is itself in its infancy. Virtually all of the psychoactive medications prescribed today work by guesswork and hypothesis. We might know that a drug raises serotonin levels or reduces cortisol, but no one really understands why or how those chemical changes affect mood, behavior, resilience, et cetera. And no one understands what else these chemicals might be doing to the brain.

Whatever we do know about brains we know about adult brains. Children’s brains are incredibly plastic, growing at phenomenal speeds, and very little studied. In the case of Ritalin, it took medical scientists decades to understand that it affects children exactly the opposite way it affects adults. With newer drugs like Risperdal and even Prozac, the effects are unpredictable and could certainly be the opposite of what the prescribing doctor intends. Since we can’t ethically, morally, or as human beings experiment on living children to find out what works, this study has to proceed extraordinarily slowly and carefully.

… Dr. [Mary Margaret] Gleason, [a pediatrician and child psychiatrist at Tulane University] said that children with ages measured in months had brains whose neurological inner workings were developing too rapidly, and in still unknown ways, to risk using medications that can profoundly influence that growth. She said the medications had never been subject to formal clinical trials in infants and toddlers largely because of those dangers.

“There are not studies,” Dr. Gleason said, “and I’m not pushing for them.”

Perhaps most important, while some percentage of the children receiving these drugs have some kind of medical need that the drug at least might address, many of them are just behaving like children their age.  Schwarz uses the phrase “tempering chronically disruptive behavior,” which is easy-to-read code for “This kid is hard to manage.”

“There are behavioral ways of working with the problems rather than medication,” said Dr. [Ed] Tronick, [a professor of developmental and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Boston], who runs a program that teaches health care providers to assist families with troubled children. “What is generating such fear and anger and withdrawal in the child? What is frustrating or causing stress in the parent? These are the things that have to be explored. But that takes time and money.”

He also said something we said back in that 2008 post:

There’s this very narrow range of what people think the prototype child should look like. Deviations from that lead them to seek out interventions like these.

These kinds of “interventions,” these drug-based “solutions” to behavior that can almost certainly be addressed with patience, creativity, love, and (when appropriate) therapy, can destroy a child’s life, destroy a family’s life, and damage everyone who cares about that child and family.

It’s bad enough that these drugs are officially available to children in the 8-10 range depending on the drug. It’s bad enough (though completely not surprising) that the pharmaceutical companies getting rich off the drugs have stories of “positive effects among suffering young people” they can tell to line their pockets. Some of those stories are probably true, but you can bet your last dollar that they are cherry-picked from a set of mostly miserable-to-neutral stories. What’s worse is that too many people don’t care about our society’s children enough to protect them from harmful chemical intervention; we just want them to shut up, behave right, and not bother anybody.

Children are a global treasure; they’re the hope we have. They have a right to grow up whole and complete and uninvaded.