Mental Illness or Bad Behavior?

Are parents medicating instead of disciplining?

The modern parent has been indoctrinated into being a friend instead of a guardian. This notion may have liberated parents from many former responsibilities, but with a great cost to the child. Too many children are left to their own devices, leaving them with great gaps in their development. These voids in children are being seen as indicators of mental disorders. Although minimal or ineffective parenting may be the culprit for the deficiencies, the child, not the parent, is labeled and placed on psychotropic drugs. Unfortunately, this path is usually one of lifelong suffering.

This agony of children with diagnosable mental illness is an epidemic experienced by 21 percent of all parents who have children between the ages of 9 and 17, according to the Surgeon General’s report of 1999.

In the 19th century, there were two diagnoses: idiocy and insanity. Today, there are 40 childhood mental disorders listed in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual IV. Peter Breggan, M.D., an expert in the field of childhood medication, notes there are five million children on psychotropic drugs in the United States, and we use 90 percent of the world’s Ritalin.

This explosion in the number of childhood mental disorders is a clear indication of our current permissive/materialistic childrearing practices that are destructive to too many of our children. Providing a child with too many material goods and freedom to do what he wishes is a prescription for an underdeveloped moral, social, emotional and spiritually vulnerable human being. Over the past 45 years, modern parenting has failed the test of time.

Buying presents or being lax with rules and standards is a form of laziness in performing parental duties. Not setting limits or not supporting one’s spouse, family members or teachers is easier than doing the right thing.
It takes minimum planning and effort to reach our current culture’s non-existent milestones. Waiting for a child to potty-train himself at 4 or 5 years old, allowing him to eat when or what he chooses, appeasing him, or ignoring unacceptable behavior will not mold the child into a well-socialized human being. The approach fails to recognize that a parent has a finite time, approximately 18 years, to instill a conscience to guide the child through the moral pitfalls of growing up. Permissive materialistic parenting is weak, incompetent parenting that does not do anything to develop coping or competency skills.

Most modern parents are very careful to focus their attention to correct any physical defect. Rarely in the United States do we ever see children with hair-lip, clubfoot, or even crooked teeth or other physical defects. We have been trained to take immediate measures to repair the physical problem and disregard the totally inappropriate behavior of the child.

The opposite is true for the correction of obvious social, emotional or psychological tendencies that are inappropriate. Our modern materialistic culture is consumed with superficial appearances, not with the heart and soul of the person.

One of my four children was an active, affectionate and bright child who at the age of 4 started to tell lies for no apparent reason. My wife and I observed this proclivity. We took corrective measures using consequences mixed with loving discussions. He is now 30 years old, a successful professional, a husband and father, and a wonderfully honest man.

In the long run, modern parents are paying a steep price for not training their children in proper eating, manners, toileting, obedience, honesty, empathy and conscience development. Authorities will pass judgment on the inappropriate behavior of the child. The negative evaluation can take place in a preschool classroom, a doctor’s or psychologist’s office or eventually in the courtroom. All eyes are on the child’s inappropriate actions, not on the parents’ malfeasance in training the child.

The parent is not the victim; the child is. Although this is not a positive experience for any parent, it is the child who is labeled and drugged into submission. The parents are granted a pass by our society as they have followed faithfully the disastrous modern parenting formula.

In the event the child is labeled with a mental disorder, the parents can often reverse this maladaptive behavior by a large dose of traditional loving discipline, making the label no longer valid.

  • Be a parent, not a friend. Children need to learn the word “no.” When you tell the child “no,” you are no longer the friend but the parent. In time, he will love you for the discipline.
  • Role model what you want your child to be. Children follow your actions, not your words.
  • Unite with spouse and other authority figures to ensure a consistent set of values and standards of behavior for a child to develop into a successful adult.
  • Judiciously use moral consequences. This is how a conscience is developed.
  • Find safer activities for your child than going to concerts, unsupervised sleepovers with mere acquaintances, or dressing like a harlot or gangster.
  • Direct your child’s exposure to music, television and Internet.
  • Take vacations with your children, regardless of their age or desires.
  • Eat and pray together every day.

Unlike being a friend to a child, parenting is a time-consuming, lifelong commitment. It is a hands-on approach that does not allow parents to lapse back into a self-centered, instant-gratification lifestyle that may have existed before the children arrived. Comprehensive parenting is an antidote against children having significant delays and gaps in their development. These deficits often are indicators for a mental health professional labeling the child with a mental disorder. The positive training of a child is a significant investment in time that pays incredible dividends. Mentally healthy children are part of a parents’ legacy that will continue to bear fruit through their grandchildren and for generations beyond.