Raising Children is Not Like Making a Soufflé, or Is It?

I’m struck by the continued rise in the incidence of ADD and ADHD in children, a condition unheard of when I was a child myself. I’m even more disturbed by the number of our children prescribed medications to treat their “disorder.”

I certainly appreciate the importance of evaluating children who are having difficulty in school or society. I believe there is a place for treatment, including medication. I am alarmed, however, by how lopsided the equation is: Not only are the really sick being undertreated, as evidenced by the mass shootings perpetrated by young people, but those in the mainstream are being pathologized. My own sons were victims of the labels.

I get it. We want to make sure that kids fit in, that they are successful, that their self-esteem is good. But when was the last time we looked at the container? Our culture is the issue.

When I was young, school started at 8:00 am; classes were 45 minutes long; we got to go outside for recess in the middle of the day; and were active in the gym later on. After school, we played outside with friends, rode our bikes until dark, ate dinner at home with our parents, read, studied, watched a little TV, and went to bed.

School today is much the same, though there is an alarming trend that kids do not get outside as much. The greatest difference is that today’s kids are wired – literally and figuratively. The world in general, and the information thrown at kids in particular, come in many more forms and much faster than the hardest baseball pitch I faced in the park as a boy. Today’s kids are hyper-stimulated by quick images and cacophonous noise. Children are pulled in multiple directions constantly, dizzy with overload by the time they leave for school in the morning.

Still, children are expected to remain seated and focused, as we were at their age. It is a recipe for failure. Children need movement, down time, and peace. Since the microchip age is upon us and is not going anywhere, we cannot simply turn back the clock and wipe away all these stimuli. We also, however, cannot keep applying the same rules and structures, expecting that things will go as smoothly as before.

A Slow Medicine approach invites us to connect all the dots – body, mind, heart, and soul, as well as individual, collective, society, and planet. To this end, instead of labeling and medicating our kids, let’s become aware of what is happening around them, then make a smart adjustment. Among other things, let’s rethink the approach and expectations of an educational system that hasn’t changed much in 100 years.

We cannot rush a soufflé. No matter what advances in oven technology come along, a soufflé still takes a full 25 minutes to bake. Similarly, we cannot rush the development of children. If the world applies additional pressure on kids, we Executive Chefs – parents, teachers, and clergy – need to reduce the heat, to adjust. We cannot just keep forcing children into a mold, pushing them harder and faster.

Instead of throwing medication at our children, let us take a dose of Slow Medicine ourselves – catching our collective breath, slowing down to a more natural rhythm, and creating an environment where it is in fact possible for our children to sit still.

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