Issue #5204 – Sunday, April 13th, 2014 – Editor: Dustin LindenSmith
My first article today is a compelling read on the pharmaceutical treatment of young boys resulting from ADHD diagnoses, which are on a steep incline in the US. The article is written by a senior editor at Esquire named Ryan d’Agostino, who contends that some boys are being drugged “simply for being boys.” He lays out a lengthy case involving many statistics, then shines a light on a certain kind of medication-free treatment modality for ADHD conceived by psychologist Howard Glasser called “The Nurtured Heart Approach.”
In Canada and locally, anecdotal reports from many teachers seem to indicate a higher incidence of seriously challenging boys to deal with in their classrooms. I’m also personally aware of certain teachers simply burning out or going on medical leave because of the severe acuity of the stress they face at school each day related to kids with serious behavioural issues. That’s a pretty sad thing in itself.
By the time they reach high school, nearly 20 percent of all American boys will be diagnosed with ADHD. Millions of those boys will be prescribed a powerful stimulant to “normalize” them. A great many of those boys will suffer serious side effects from those drugs. The shocking truth is that many of those diagnoses are wrong, and that most of those boys are being drugged for no good reason—simply for being boys. It’s time we recognize this as a crisis.
Admittedly, the “Nurtured Heart Approach” sounds like heavy flakery on the surface. It gets more interesting later in the piece when d’Agostino describes how Glasser shapes the dynamic in a weekend therapy group he runs with unmedicated ADHD-diagnosed kids. He describes how Glasser thought of flipping the regular system of rules on its head:
The problem with the positive rules was that there didn’t seem to be a very good way to teach them. The old rules were mostly taught when children broke them. If the rule is “No hitting” and one kid hits another, you’d teach the child the rule in that moment. “What you just did was wrong.” You’d tell him to go sit in the corner, or go to his room, or apologize. But in those moments, everyone’s upset. The kid who got hit is crying, the hitter is angry and scared, and the grown-up is amping up the authority. The offending child gets all the attention. The rule doesn’t stick.
Still, Glasser saw that kids seemed to like “no” rules because they’re clear. The line of transgression was definite. He had an idea: What if he told the children how great they were when they didn’t break a rule? It would be like a video game. When you do something great while playing a video game—when you simply do what the game expects—you get points and you get to keep going. When you go out of bounds or break one of the game’s rules, no one yells at you or reminds you what rule you’ve broken. You simply miss a turn or lose points. And there is no grudge once you pay the fine. As Glasser wrote in his first book in 1999, Transforming the Difficult Child, “When the consequence is over, it’s right back to scoring.”
Glasser later had a sudden insight into a new way to approach rules altogether.
And so he thought, What if a child was sitting quietly, not bothering anyone, and you went out of your way to congratulate him on that, very specifically, by telling him how proud you are that he’s not hitting anyone, not screaming, not throwing toys, but just sitting quietly? What if you gave a child the equivalent of points—what if you thanked him or hugged him—for not putting his feet on the couch? How would he respond to that?
He’ll like it, it turns out.
“I started accusing kids of being successful for not breaking rules. Nobody ever in my professional career had done that,” he says. “All of a sudden—and it was as weird as it could be—I knew I was speaking to some level of a kid’s soul. I knew it was nourishing them in some way. It was like me weeping at Michael Davis’s house. In my professional career, no kid had ever been told they were successful when it came to rules.”
I felt that the preceding led naturally into this article in Canada’s national Globe and Mail newspaper that describes how dads are now falling short in their own desire for a better work-life balance:
“When I was taking care of my son it was a shock for me that I couldn’t read. It was like a bomb going off in my head all the time,” said Smith, author of The Daddy Shift, which surveys a new cohort of “nurturing” fathers. “People ask parents, ‘what do you do all day?’ The answer is that you’re paying attention constantly, which is exhausting.”
Having been a stay-at-home dad for about a decade now, I can sincerely empathize with the sentiments expressed in that article. Especially with toddlers, the sheer amount of attention you must pay on a nearly continuous basis can be deeply exhausting. It can leave you completely spent by the end of the day, with a lot of stress arising throughout the day as you try to avoid mishaps, accidents or messes with your kids—especially if they’re active young boys.
Nonduality “in action,” so to speak, involves no small measure of acceptance for things as they currently are. It also involves recognition that whatever differences we perceive in one another are essentially immaterial, including (or perhaps especially!) with our own children.
Whenever I successfully engage with my own kids and my wife in this way, I naturally stop trying to make them conform to my expectations. It’s also much easier for me not to take things so personally when I truly recognize that they and I are reflections of the very same essence. We are part of the same family, the same neighbourhood, the same system, period. By recognizing the essential oneness that I share with my kids, empathy towards them also arises naturally whenever they’re upset—even if their behaviour towards me while they’re upset could easily be perceived as being insulting or rude in the heat of the moment. (Can you tell what kind of behaviours I’ve been exposed to recently?)
Howard Glasser appears to embody this ideal when he connects with those troubled kids in his support groups. Those boys: those active, rambunctious boys who have always had trouble fitting in and conforming to the expectations of a classroom; those boys who experience little to none of that profound acceptance that kids need to feel from their caregivers and their teachers; those boys who always seem to get in trouble just for being who they are in that moment—just for being a kid.