Tag Archives: infants

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.


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.


Babies? or Baby Women?

Debbie says:

In the 1970s heyday of the late 20th century resurgence of feminism, a very famous Doonesbury cartoon showed feminist Joanie Caucus proud and happy because one of her daycare charges describes a newborn sister as a “baby woman.”

I don’t think cartoonist Trudeau was thinking 35 years ahead to these two products for “baby women”; I certainly wasn’t.

Let’s start with “Baby Bangs Hairband”before and after pictures baby with hairband

“I’M NOT A BOY,” the site proclaims proudly.

Our patent pending HAIR+band accessory combination allows baby girl’s (with little or no hair at all) the opportunity to have a beautifully realistic HAIR style in a SNAP!! … our Baby Bangs! come to you pre-customized & size appropriate, cut, styled and ready for immediate wear. The wispy hair strands have been arranged in the cutest most adorable elfish coiffure!

(Being a fat activist has made me a connoisseur of “before/after” pictures. Not all the pictures on the site show this dramatic a contrast but, just like weight loss pictures, they all have something that makes the “before” picture dorky or unattractive.

Then, there’s “something for the evening”:

toddler t-shirt with tassels

Yes, folks, it’s a baby t-shirt with nipple tassels, available in 6-month and 12-month sizes.

So which is worse? At first glance, the second one, because it sexualizes infants, which is indubitably repulsive. However, the more I think about it, the more I am even more offended by the first one. A baby (of any gender) in a tassel shirt would think the tassels were toys–as, in fact, they are. The distance between the baby’s own perception of the shirt and the adult meaning of the shirt is so great that it can’t be crossed in baby terms: some adults will probably think the shirt is marvelous and coo, others will think it’s shocking and giggle, still others will think the shirt is repulsive and try to hide that reaction from baby and parents. None of these reactions will get significantly through to the baby, who will be too busy pulling on the tassels and finding out if they’re edible.

Meanwhile, the hairband is actually going to affect how people relate to the baby. Again, the baby could be any gender, but any baby in that get-up is going to get treated like a “little lady” by most family, babysitters, and passersby on the street. That’s the kind of connection babies can make: “people really treat me differently when I have this silly thing on my head.”

And here’s the point: babies are extremely hard to truly sexualize, because they’re so far away from the adult version of sexuality. But it’s easy to teach them that the gap between boys and girls is essential to their identity … and teaching that so young makes it easy to sexualize toddler girls and kindergarten-age girls.

“I’m not a boy; I’m not a girl; I’m a BABY!”

Thanks to Lynn Kendall for pointers to both products.