Book of the week: We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication by Judith Warner
(Riverhead, 320 pages, $25.95)
Judith Warner’s “brilliant” new book is a must-read for anyone who fears that too many children today are being medicated for performance and behavioral issues, said Amy Tuteur in Salon.com. Five years ago, she was a skeptic herself, and she began writing We’ve Got Issues with the intention of exposing how greedy pharmaceutical companies and overanxious parents were pushing healthy kids into dangerous pill habits. But then she started actually talking to parents of children with mental illnesses. She discovered that their most fervent wish was not that their offspring get straight A’s but simply that they might be able “to live outside an institution without hurting anyone.” Gradually, Warner changed her mind. Her old position, she now writes, was just prejudice, a blindness to real suffering.
Her new one isn’t much of an improvement, said Alison Gopnik in Slate.com. Did Warner really think she’d find any parents who’d confess that they were knowingly overmedicating their perfectly healthy kids? Only one question about medication really matters: “Do the drugs make the children better?” Warner uses anecdotes to back her argument that they do, but “nowhere in the book does she explain or evaluate the scientific evidence” that could actually answer the question. If she did, she’d find that “the scientific evidence just isn’t clear.” Various psychological syndromes—including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia—are not diseases in a traditional sense. They are clusters of symptoms that become problems only in a society that withholds rewards from those who manifest them. Whenever there’s evidence that other types of intervention can help, we should be “much more conservative than we are” in prescribing psychotropic drugs.
Warner does defend her decision not to probe the science more deeply, said Mary Carmichael in Newsweek.com. Because the science remains murky, she suggests, parents should be considered the best judges of what’s working: After all, why would they keep giving their kids drugs if the drugs didn’t seem to work? Warner’s not completely naïve: She still believes that the greed of pharmaceutical companies needs to be checked. Though she doesn’t settle this debate, she’s added a new voice to it—an impressive accomplishment, considering that the topic was “already one of the most talked-about in all of parenting.”