French Kids Rescued from “the tyranny of their own desires…” – UPDATED

Over on Facebook, Melanie Bettinelli — the wise and graceful blogress at The Wine Dark Sea — posted this article from Psychology Today on Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD, or at least not the way American kids seem to have it.

To the extent that French clinicians are successful at finding and repairing what has gone awry in the child’s social context, fewer children qualify for the ADHD diagnosis. Moreover, the definition of ADHD is not as broad as in the American system, which, in my view, tends to “pathologize” much of what is normal childhood behavior. The DSM specifically does not consider underlying causes. It thus leads clinicians to give the ADHD diagnosis to a much larger number of symptomatic children, while also encouraging them to treat those children with pharmaceuticals.

The French holistic, psycho-social approach also allows for considering nutritional causes for ADHD-type symptoms—specifically the fact that the behavior of some children is worsened after eating foods with artificial colors, certain preservatives, and/or allergens. Clinicians who work with troubled children in this country—not to mention parents of many ADHD kids—are well aware that dietary interventions can sometimes help a child’s problem. In the United States, the strict focus on pharmaceutical treatment of ADHD, however, encourages clinicians to ignore the influence of dietary factors on children’s behavior.

Yes. Emphasis mine; Americans seem to fear “normal childhood behavior”, possibly because it is too free, imaginative, and constructively fiendish in a world already hostage to the tyranny of “shh, be nice!” Nice, in childhood, is a fleeting thing as a growing human is learning how to balance dark and light.

But what really struck me was this:

French parents have a different philosophy of disciplinine. 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.”

Oh, snap! Emphasis mine. This is the efficacy of the word “no”. It is useful; it is necessary. In America, we think it is nothing but mean and — most erroneously, this thought — “unloving.”

But love is at the heart of a disciplined, and reasoned “no”, because it rescues us from our foolhardiness; it diminishes our pride; it shrinks the ego; it reduces the illusion that we are the one we have been waiting for.

In Strange Gods, I ask at one point, “what has ‘no’ every created, but Hell?” In the context of my argument, it is a sensible question, because “no” does not create. Creation must be the ‘yes’ that rides on Intention. “No” does not grow a thing or a created creature; it grounds it.

Which is why things like the Ten Commandments and the Catholic Church — which are actually created in God’s intention of “Yes” — must rightly, logically, contain the grounding element of “no.” The French parents understand it in the micro; the church understands it in the macro: “The Catholic Church,” wrote Gilbert Keith Chesterton, “is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”

Yes. And thank God for it.

Elizabeth Duffy takes issue:

Dr. Wedge asks the question:

“Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States.”

In case you didn’t catch that–the author did not provide an answer. She then goes on to detail the way ADHD is treated in America and in France, with a pretty firm bias on the French method that goes hand in hand with the current fashion for all things French.

So I’m not sure why she makes the next leap that she does, which is to provide a hyper-generalized picture of the way Americans parent that places blame for the ADHD diagnosis on parental sins ranging from offering their kids snacks to not letting their babies cry it out at night.

I cannot help feeling like this is a case of, “When in doubt, blame the parents,” which is, of course, the easy way out (since the monolithic group of parents-who-do-everything-wrong is beyond the reach of reasonable treatment). It also provides a critical platform for people who are annoyed by children in general, and even more so, by sloppy parenting.

Read the rest.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • KyPerson

    That is how I grew up in the late 50s and early 60s. We had snacks as a treat, we were told “no” and we had limits and respected them. Paradoxically, we also had freedoms that today’s children don’t. We could ride our bikes all over town as long as we were home by dinner time.

  • Osserv

    Good post! I would add that there’s also the problem of posing things in a way that can seem to justify harmful means: i.e. doing someone harm for “his own good”. But If it’s true that ends do not justify means, it’s especially true when it comes to children, since they learn by example. Furthermore, before as certain age, they are simply too young to understand the ends (teleology) and the lesson can only be the the means (technique), which should be concretely and understandably loving.

  • Life in the Slow Lane

    Yes, yes, and yes.

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  • Kimbergrl
  • Richard Sieur de Brantigny

    Yes, Yes, Yes. I am a correctional case manager in NC. I have found that the majority of those on my case load were living wtih their grandmother, who could never bring themselves to say “no”. They felt that it was punishing a kid who had a mother and father (if there was one) but who was never around. They were never told no or were told no and chose to ignore it becase there was no consequence behind It.

  • Gail Deibler Finke

    Count me skeptical. I have a child with ADHD and it is NOT due to diet or lack of discipline (or, for that matter, from a broken home, too much television, not being breastfed, etc.). It is a real and devastating developmental disorder, and the other parents I know whose children have ADHD would tell you the same thing. I find that people who opine about ADHD drugs rarely know what they are talking about. Yes, there are ADHD symptoms that come from poor diets or strange food allergies, but that’s very uncommon. The documented cases are startling precisely because they ARE rare. And as for the French and their supposedly wonderful child-rearing habits… well, these are the same French who barely reproduce, right?

  • Gail Deibler Finke

    Post hoc ergo propter hoc? Not necessarily. If you have a child with ADHD, you know very well that often it is impossible to discipline them or get them to eat well. Most parents of kids with ADHD try everything to get their kids to behave. It doesn’t work. Their brains do not function as they should and they WILL NOT behave, any more than a child with eye problems will obediently see clearly when told to. I have a friend whose son had never played a game all the way through, never sat through a meal, and never had a real conversation until he had ADHD medication. NEVER. Have you ever sat with a child for two yours trying to get him to do a 10-minute homework assignment, week after week after week? It is REAL.

  • MeanLizzie

    I don’t think anyone is saying, Gail, that ADHD is not REAL but some of us are saying that the criteria is too broad and that other things can come to play in it. As to spending two hours trying to get a kid to do ten minutes worth of homework, I’ve been there, done that. In OUR case — I’m not comparing it to yours — it turned out the only thing wrong with my son, besides him being a boy, was that his schoolwork was not challenging to him and he was bored and resentful. When he got into a gifted program, everything changed. But until then, yeah…his teacher was trying to convince me that what he needed wasn’t something different – because not everyone learns the same way or belongs in the same environment — , but meds to help him conform. Some kids need the meds, yes, absolutely. But I don’t believe its as many as we see.

  • Kevin

    This is not to say it works in every case but in our case we used the Feingold Diet and our daughter’s HD went away. It is worth investigating. It is downplayed in this country because of the influence the chemical companies and the drug companies have.

  • Hmm.

    It is a real and devastating developmental disorder

    Those of us old enough to remember childhoods spent running around the neighborhood in small packs of children of all ages,

    with the big dogs nipping at the little dogs,

    I never met an ADHD kid, not in school, not anywhere,

    until I became a parent and was putting my own kids into the highly structured environments of playdates and playgroups and art/soccer/music/swim instruction.

    So I understand it is real, but I think the devastatingness is partly the product of these modern times.

  • Suburbanbanshee

    Yes. There were a few kids who were genuinely “hyper” in my childhood day, but generally the solution was to give them the odd cup of coffee and otherwise to make them run off their energy with a lot of exercise and games, preferably outside. Kids often still had the whole weekend and most evenings to play, plus plenty of recess time.

    I’m sure diet and other things help, but having an outlet for kid energy makes a real difference. Buses and cars and regimented play schedules are probably a lot of the problem, though surely not all.

  • NancyP

    As a mom, homeschool co-op teacher, public school substitute teacher, teen day camp counselor, Scout leader, CCD teacher, music teacher, etc., my take on ADD and ADHD is this. Overdiagnosed. Overprescribed. ADD and ADHD definitely exist and require treatment/behavior management, but more children are medicated and IEP’d than should be. After decades of “diagnoses” and “prescriptions,” parents are still in the dark, in many cases.

  • bender

    I don’t blame parents for the increase in ADHD.

    I blame the politicized junk science of “experts” who are pushing the idea that everything which is traditional and natural is bad and wrong and in need of reconstruction.

  • bender

    I do blame those parents who are sheep. Who blindly buy into what the “experts” say and then suddenly start seeing problems with their kids and then start trying to correct those “problems.”

    A good deal of “no matter how much we try to get our child to do X, Y, or Z, he simply won’t do it” is basic rebellion. It is an issue of inter-personal conflict. Mom or Dad repeatedly pushing the kid and the kid resisting because he does not like to be pushed (no one does).

    But observe the child with someone else, observe them with someone they just met, a complete stranger, and they are all too willing to do X, Y, and Z. Why? Because the person isn’t constantly pushing them, the person hasn’t already labeled them as a problem child with “special needs.” Instead, they are treated as a real (normal) person.