I’m going to start this post by saying that it is really just a case of out-loud thinking. I don’t really know where this leads… I just know I’m thinking about it a lot lately, and I’m hoping that by writing, I make some sense of my thoughts.
I struggle a lot with issues of drug use among American teens– I’ve written about this before when I wrote When I Learned to Hate Drugs — and I worry about it both with the illegal drug use – with 6.5% of high school seniors smoking marijuana on a daily basis according to the NIH – and with the legal drug use where we see more and more kids getting medicated for things like ADHD. As Ken Robinson has noted, it is a bigger issue the further east you go in American, and in my home state of Pennsylvania, 5.6% of all kids between ages four and seventeen are being medicated for ADD / ADHD. And scarily, there’s a huge crossover of kids who fall into both categories, as approximately 30% of people with ADHD have a history of substance abuse.
And I can say, anecdotally, that I have seen multiple kids getting prescribed ADHD drugs without ever being asked if they are using any illegal drugs. Worse, I also know kids who have been prescribed ADHD drugs when their doctors have known they are also using recreational drugs.
And yet, a half-hour search of the internet could not find any really definitive research on what happens to teenage brains when a drug like Ritalin is used in conjunction with marijuana. There were, however, a lot of sites where teens were asking questions about what happens when these drugs are mixed. And there were a fair number of doctor sites that suggested that the symptoms of marijuana use could be mistaken for some of the symptoms of ADD.
So as we have created an adolescence for so many children that is really nothing more than a holding pattern for adulthood — where we tell them that “school is good for you some day,” rather than daring them to be engaged now, empowered now, caring now, where they are bombarded outside of school with an ever more sophisticated marketing industry that preaches instant gratification for material desires — and then we wonder why kids can’t focus or won’t focus and choose to self-medicate or end up getting medicated.
This isn’t to say that there are not kids with real attention issues that profoundly impact their lives in negative ways — there most certainly are. But I worry that there are also many students who are currently being prescribed drugs who have something more resembling situational ADHD, caused by any number of circumstances from really boring and unconnected schoolwork to marijuana use to poor eating habits.
I don’t know that we know the long-term consequences to the behaviors around drug use that are both being explicitly endorsed (major increases in the number of children in American being prescribed drugs for ADHD) and implicitly tolerated (the passive acceptance of teenage drug use which we see in so many families and so many communities.) And I certainly don’t think we know what happens, long-term, to the kids who overlap in both camps.
I want to see us combat the illegal drug use with care. Both the way we care for kids, and by daring more and more kids to care about the lives they lead now such that the allure of drug use is less powerful than the allure of all there is accomplish in front of us.
I want to see us combat the legal drug use by slowing down a bit. I want families to look at sleep patterns of kids (as I finish this blog entry at 2:36 am.) I want families to be smart about healthy dietary habits. I want kids to learn meditation as a way to quiet the mind, not a pill. And perhaps most of all, I want schools to create more work for kids that is actually worth focusing on, relevant, powerful and driven by the student, not the teacher.
There are probably lots of folks who will tell me that I’m too hyper-sensitive about marijuana use among teens. There are probably lots of folks who will tell me that ADHD medication isn’t being over-prescribed to kids today. And there are probably folks who will tell me that the reason I can’t find any red flags about what happens when kids mix these drugs is because no one has found any red flags yet.
But the cost-benefit analysis just doesn’t seem worth it to me. I worry that we inch closer and closer to some Huxley-like dystopia where we simply take our soma and go blithely about our day, never taking the time to really do the hard work of looking around us and taking more ownership of our society and our world.