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June 07, 2013

Drugs vs. Standards

Sacre bleu!!!! We may have to stop making fun of the Phrench:

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means "frame" or "structure." Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies "cry it out" if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sports practice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word "no" rescues children from the "tyranny of their own desires." And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don't need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.

We have never understood the idea that children can't control themselves. Assuming they're not sick, overtired, or ravenously hungry, even very small children are quite capable of behaving themselves from a very young age.

The thing is, self restraint is a skill like any other. Which means they need considerable practice before they'll be any good at it.

Posted by Cassandra at June 7, 2013 06:52 AM

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I worry that my niece (5 next month) & nephew (3 next month) are being overly indulged. My parents don't seem to place much restraint on the snacking when the kiddos are there. My brother also seems to be more permissive than I thought he would be as a parent. Better get a handle on that before they are teenagers....

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at June 7, 2013 04:47 PM

French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents.

And then I stopped reading.

Posted by: spd rdr at June 7, 2013 06:10 PM

We have standards as well as drugs. The standard is, "Children who don't obey the other standards will be drugged until they do."

Posted by: Grim at June 7, 2013 07:16 PM

Ugh! Awkward to have to respect an aspect of French society . . .
. . . so exactly when do they learn to be selfish Frogs?

Posted by: CAPT Mike at June 7, 2013 10:59 PM

We have standards as well as drugs. The standard is, "Children who don't obey the other standards will be drugged until they do."

Yes, but by whom?

By their parents. No one's forcing these folks to drug their own children.

Posted by: Cass at June 8, 2013 10:35 AM

It's a little different from that. School officials (I have discovered) limit the range of disciplinary responses available to teachers and even administrators, so that headstrong students cannot be effectively disciplined in public schools. Although "wait until I get you home" accomplishes a lot of good, it's not right there where the child has to confront it in the moment -- which is the kind of discipline most effective with younger children, who haven't developed the capacity to plan to avoid pain in the long term.

Parents are left with the following options:

1) Accept the recommendation of the school to arrange for a diagnosis and drugs,

2) Accept the students' being turned over to police for arrest, because the school won't do what our teachers did and smack some sense into the kids,

3) Arrange for the thousands of dollars a year to send the child to a private school with stricter disciplinary options, such as a military or Catholic school,

4) Have one of the parents quit their job to devote near-full-time to homeschooling.

Obviously (3) is the best answer if you can swing it, (4) if you have the temperament and education to do right by your children and can afford the pay cut, and (1) if neither of those things is true.

If the schools were allowed to discipline like my teachers did, though, we wouldn't need to resort to these options nearly so often as we do. I got my backside roasted just every so often as a boy, generally just for the kind of things that would today land me on medication. As far as I can tell, it did me no harm and much good.

I don't know why we think we can dispense with it; it's been a part of formal education ever since there's been formal education, because boys in particular need to be forced to do the work sometimes. They won't choose to spend hours a day sitting in their chair when it's a beautiful day outside. That comes later, but by the time it comes we need them already to know how to read and write and do math.

Posted by: Grim at June 8, 2013 12:44 PM

I don't know why we think we can dispense with it; it's been a part of formal education ever since there's been formal education, because boys in particular need to be forced to do the work sometimes. They won't choose to spend hours a day sitting in their chair when it's a beautiful day outside. That comes later, but by the time it comes we need them already to know how to read and write and do math.

I'm not sure lack of corporeal punishment is the problem, Grim.

There was no corporeal punishment in ANY of the 13 states in which I attended school as a child, and yet boys generally behaved just fine, there was no talk of ADHD, and they didn't need to be medicated. Sorry, but I think the problem is parents. Schools aren't helping, but we can't raise hothouse flowers who can only function under ideal circumstances.

And while I sympathize with the options you're talking about, I don't sympathize much because I paid that price gladly. I mowed people's lawns, did contract cleaning, and changed other people's kids' diapers for many years in addition to being a FT mother and homemaker so that my boys would be in a supportive school environment. Even though I never earned anything even CLOSE to minimum wage, my earnings covered tuition at a variety of private schools in several different states. I couldn't afford the tony ones but there was almost always a Catholic school and even as a non-Catholic, the tuition wasn't prohibitive.

I'm also a big fan of holding immature boys (and girls, if they need it) back for a year. Academic ability is not the only factor in readiness for school - maturity is important too. Raising kids is hard work, but it's important work.

No one's child gets put on medication unless THEY authorize it. I think there are some kids who really do have ADHD, but I think there are far more who simply haven't ever had to practice self control or learn patience. We had a constant struggle with my oldest boy. He was strong willed to the nth power and has never found it easy to sit still or meekly follow rules. That told me he had to work harder than other kids at that particular skill (just like his mother did), and so we practiced ...for the whole time he was growing up.

It often seems to me that parents feel guilty for acting like parents these days. I don't get it - this does no favor to children.

Posted by: Cass at June 8, 2013 02:13 PM

You've told me your story before, and I agree that it's commendable. I don't know that I believe it's still possible today.

I don't mean to dismiss your experience, so please don't take it that way. It's just that the picture is a little different now. The local Catholic school charges about $8,300 a year per student, so if you had two boys you'd need to be earning about seventeen thousand dollars. At part time, 20/hrs per week, you could do that if you earned $16 an hour. Most of the part-time jobs around here pay less than half that rate -- and that's if you can find a job at all.

So you'd need a full-time job if you earned what most people around here earn, a full-time job just for this one expense.

But finding even one job per family is very difficult in this economy, as people have cut back on a lot of the small-scale pickup work you're talking about. They mow their own lawns, or they do without mowing them as often. And, too, the last thirty years has seen an explosion in liability issues as well as mass immigration; both of these have harmed the ability of the average person to be employable at an affordable rate.

Posted by: Grim at June 8, 2013 08:17 PM


I understand that not every location has affordable schools. But I'm a little confused. If most families can't even find even one FT job per family, then having one or both spouses teach the kids at home would not negatively impact the family income because they're not really sacrificing paid employment to home school.

My objection to your comment is that you seem to be conflating difficult or unpalatable choices with NO choices.

$8300 equates to $4000 (adjusted for inflation via online calculator) when my kids were going to school. That comes out to about $80 a week. I charged the princely sum of $1 an hour (!) for child care. I watched 1 child FT ($40 a week), several toddlers just in the morning and 2 school aged children in the afternoons after school. We did activities and I fed them snacks and juice, but kids don't really eat much and the impact on my grocery bill was negligible.

I'm not saying this is a one size fits all recipe for affording private school. It was only offered as evidence that there are options out there. I'm also not saying it is easy. When we lived in 29 Stumps, there was a family that had 12 kids and home schooled all of them. Now *I* would not want to do that, but then I would not want 12 children. Another place we lived, parents had a co-op and shared teaching duties between families to lighten the load.

I'm having trouble with the idea that there are no options other than drugging your child. I asked my husband (on the theory that a man might have a different recollection of what was common for boys) what he remembers of his school years and like me, he can't recall schools having any problem with boys just refusing to do school work unless they were physically forced to. There were kids who drifted, but they were generally from families who didn't think school was important or didn't make discipline a priority.

We make choices about our lives (staying in one place vs. moving, having kids vs. not doing so, etc) and each choice has tradeoffs associated with it. Arguing that something is "not possible" today seems to me to cut against individual freedom of choice. How do immigrants come here and send most/all of their paychecks back home? Mostly they seem to do it by living in ways you or I would find hard to bear, but it's definitely possible.

I've been told a gazillion times over the years that it's not possible for a family to live on one income, but I see it done all the time. That's what I'm pushing back against.

Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2013 07:45 AM

I think a family surely can live on one income; they just may not be able to send a child to private school on one income.

If their poverty is in any way tied to a lack of education, they may find it difficult to repair the deficiencies of public school by home-schooling. Obviously it would be hard for someone who never finished high school, for example, to teach a child well enough to prepare them even to complete a high school diploma.

So immigrants and our own native poor both often end up surviving by living on public assistance. I think it's true that many immigrants manage to send money home, but that's in part because they pay for so little here: they make extensive use of our emergency rooms and health departments, public schools, public housing, charities, and so on. The conditions are certainly deplorable, but they are also not expensive. Immigrants and even illegal immigrants can send their children to school here, for free if they pay no property taxes; they can get their children health care at public expense also.

In part that's why the public schools are so bad, of course: they're serving a large number of people who pay no taxes to support them. The immigration has also lowered the wages for the working poor over the last thirty years, which makes it harder for them to swing things that might have given their progeny a leg up. My own great-grandfather, as a farmer, could manage with great difficulty to send his sons to trade school; my grandfather, as a welder, managed to send his sons to college.

But if you were a small farmer like my great-grandfather today, there's a good chance you'd be losing your farm. We have family farms out here going out of business all the time. Welders can at least move and take their skills to a better market, but there aren't as many jobs as there used to be.

Anyway, I'm not opposed to the point you say you're trying to make about living on one income. All I'm saying is that things have gotten harder, not better, for the people trying to struggle up. Some of the tools they used to have access to, like a private school for their kids if they worked hard and saved diligently, are now out of reach for many.

Posted by: Grim at June 10, 2013 06:20 PM

Grim, I don't argue that some people can't afford private school. But relative poverty doesn't - can't - explain the massive increase in kids being medicated for ADHD.

The vast majority of kids go to public, not private schools. If I didn't believe private schools help, I would never have paid for them all those years but I know far more families whose children graduated from public than private schools.

If poverty or public schools are the problem, then why are children growing up in homes with no father over twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD? The disparity is striking.

Posted by: Cass at June 10, 2013 08:28 PM

I don't argue that the children aren't being misdiagnosed. I'm just arguing that the schools' refusal to discipline puts the parents -- single or otherwise -- in a position of having to go along with the misdiagnosis if they lack recourse to things like private schools or homeschooling. The poor are likely to lack recourse to both to some degree, because of lack of wealth and the lack of education commonly associated with poverty.

Maybe single mothers are more likely to give in to pressure like this, but more likely they are just more probably poor. I imagine the disparity lines up to a large degree with the poverty disparity for single mothers v. married couples raising children.

Posted by: Grim at June 11, 2013 08:37 AM

I imagine this is horribly sexist (and self loathing!) of me, but I suspect that single mothers in general have a harder time maintaining an appropriate level of discipline and order in the home. For one thing, if you're working and have small children and no one to reinforce discipline, you get worn down. I felt that during long deployments - even though the Unit rarely got involved in discipline (I administered well over 95% of it, including spankings), just having someone in the background helped immensely. There was no 'wait until Dad gets home', but the value of presenting a united front is huge.

Single fathers, though far less numerous, probably have other failings. I haven't observed enough of them to know. But I've observed over the years that mothers seem less likely to be stern disciplinarians (I was, but a lot of the credit for that actually belongs to the father of my children, whose standards were stricter than mine).

And I think it doesn't help that societal standards have slipped so much. That removes another pillar of support for parents trying to hold the line against popular culture and mores.

Posted by: Cass at June 11, 2013 09:21 AM

That's all true, I think.

I have never had a moment's trouble with discipline, as a father. A stern word is usually more than adequate; several stern words has almost always had devastating effect. But teachers had more trouble, and really I think it's because they lacked other options given the rules. I finally just gave everyone my office phone number, and instructed them to call me and put him on the phone if necessary.

Posted by: Grim at June 11, 2013 09:50 AM

You may find this article interesting. It treats the way in which psychiatry evolves as the culture evolves, which is a little surprising given that it is allegedly a science. Usually sciences evolve otherwise.

Posted by: Grim at June 17, 2013 10:07 PM